Cherry Orchard

Scenography is the arrangement of the visual and sensorium of the stage in harmony or discontinuity with space, movement and the flow of time, to create an atmosphere and mood of the performance. The development of scenography (which can be traced to technological advancements) has moved from the two-dimensional pictorial scenery i.e. a backdrop, to an exploration of the way in which a three-dimensional space can be manipulated, and interact with the performers. The concept of scenography began to gain value towards the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century with works from Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon-Craig. Anton Chekhov became known for his detailed symbolic stage directions as this subsequently challenged scenographers in which meanings can be produced. This has led to scholarly debate of methodological limitations of design analysis. The Cherry Orchard, 1903 explores an aristocratic family who are coming to terms with the abolition of serfdom, in specific, the imminent danger of losing their cherry orchard. The play follows the return of Lyubov Ranevskaya, a hopeless woman who is stuck in the past resulting in poor judgement with the help of her family. In attempt to construct a design concept for this play, I have chosen to continue the symbolic, modernist direction of the play whilst questioning the direction in contrast with a postmodernist approach. Jean-Francois Lyotard describes postmodernism as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’(refusal of the grand master).

In examining the textual analysis, the nursey takes a symbolic life of its own as for Lyubov and Gayev it symbolises their childhood, past, and ancestral history. This is also significant for Lopakhin who is introduced as now a wealthy merchant, is reminded of his upbringing in being the son of a serf. Consequently, Lopakhin is introduced as a character who is also finding difficulty in coming to terms with the social transition as he confessions, as stated, “Yes, my father was a muzhik and here I am with in white gloves and yellow shoes… I’m muzhik through and through.”He projects these insecurities onto Dunyasha in telling her, “one should remember one’s place.”The cherry orchard itself plays the central figure to the symbolic play, it is described as a unique orchard listed in the Encyclopaedia , its monstrous size symbolises of the then aristocratic power over Russia. While the absurdity of the family being unable to find any use of this vast, profitable land of cherries contributes to the comical nature of the play. The entire action of the play revolves around the cherry orchard, and how it provides different meanings for all the characters. I have numbered the action of the play to demonstrate my argument;

  1. Lyubov, Anya and Yasha return back home to understand the estate will be auctioned to settle their debts

  2. Lopakhin puts forward an offer to save it and the family decline

  3. Lopakhin and Gayev go to the auction

  4. Lopakhin purchases the estate against the family’s prior knowledge

  5. Lyubov and family are evicted

In an initial design concept, the use of a cherry orchard to demonstrate the break from an epoch to another, in which can only be applied provided a socio-cultural and historical reading. A scholarly analysis cannot account for a complete understanding of such a time, and the audience reception, which is explained further in Appendix C. An approach to a ‘postmodern design’ seems better fit as I would be able discuss the effects of multinational capitalism on a world dislocating our private and social experience. It also provides a subversion of how a formalist critique can determine a fixed meaning behind a work of art, shifting from the single perspective reading.

In examining the spatial elements, on and off stage, in Act One, Chekhov describes the room as “A room which is still called the ‘nursery’. One of the doors leads to Anya’s room. Dawn; it will soon be sunrise. It is May and the cherry trees are in bloom, but out in the orchard it is cold, with a morning frost. The windows of the room are shut.”The fusion of exterior and interior worlds is integral to understand the scenic language of Chekhov, which is discussed in Appendix A. The nursery plays an integral setting to the entirety of the play due to its significance placed by the family, with it belonging to Act 1 and Act 4. It’s function as a nursery was fulfilled for Lyubov and her brother, Gayev when they were children, however the significance of this function seems to be apparent following her departure from childhood. Her excitement of returning to the nursey demonstrates her difficulty in not only parting with the physical space of the nursey, and the estate but how it may symbolise her inevitable departure from youth, in being nurtured and protected. This is further demonstrated in her irresponsible treatment of money. The conversations that take part in the nursery can be deemed as the same due to the siblings’ ignorance and unwillingness to accept the circumstances of being an impoverished aristocrat. In examining the exterior world, Chekhov then describes a door leading to Anya’s room, suggesting a continuity of the interior world to the world beyond, in particular Lyubov’s daughter, Anya. This establishes a direct causation of mother to daughter, in specific, Anya will continue her mother’s ways.

The fusion of the interior and exterior worlds of the dramatic text influences the atmosphere of the work. It provides a fluidity within both worlds, whether they be opposing or symbiotic. Josef Svoboda has stressed the fluidity of both worlds are driven through the use of windows, “the thought and desires of the characters fly out through the windows, by life and its realities fly in the other way… the windows lead us to all of Chekhov’s atmosphere, the interiors are not bordered or limited, but diffused.”With this in mind, the nursery becomes a safe haven for the characters and regardless of their efforts, this delusion is slipping away, while the frosty reality of the class restructure is becoming truer. Within my design concept I will then not only use but emphasise the importance of windows in creating a curtain of lighting, inspired by Svoboda, to create the illusion of windows. This will create a prison-like atmosphere for the characters, while providing a light source that the windows intend to produce.

“Suddenly there is a distant noise, as if up in the sky, the sound of a broken string, a dying, sad sound.”This stage direction is stated in the midst of the second act, and then repeated at the very end of the final act followed by a silence, and then “the only thing to be heard is a tree being struck with an axe far off in the orchard.”There has been much debate behind the meaning and use of a broken string, whether it is a literal stage direction, or has any value to include in a sound design. To me the stage direction is not of literal substance, it rather symbolises the ghostly, melancholic inescapable reality the family will face. In the second act the characters attempt to find the origin of the sound, and then somewhat disregard it as something to not pay attention to. The explanation provided by Firs demonstrates its symbolic value, “it was the same before the troubles: the owl hooted and the samovar wouldn’t stop whistling… before emancipation, when we were freed.”The juxtaposition of sounds at the end of the play of the broken string and then striking axe symbolises, essentially, the last cry of hope for the cherry orchard and of the aristocratic family. The silence marks the break from an old world and the uprising of a middle class.

In examining the costumes, it is important to note the detail Chekhov applied in imaging the characteristics the characters carry and demonstrate physically. This emphasises the comedic element of the play as Lopakhin is introduced in white gloves and yellow shoes. He expresses his discomfort in his appearance and it must be assumed this continues in his movement. The costume also provides a historical background of the character as we are made aware before we are introduced to Lyubov that she has lived in Paris for five years. This information provides an insight of her movements and fashion to be drastically different from other characters. In a design concept, I am not attempting to provide a documentary recording in imitating the fashion, but the effects implied on social and cultural status.

The use of lighting in the play is dominated by natural light sources i.e. sunlight and the moon.The motivated lighting is usually candles held by the characters or placed on stage to enhance a scene i.e. act three, the ballroom scene.

The play explores class restructuring and the struggle due to the social- political and historical issues within the Russian Empire. As explained to follow this theme of the play in contemporary productions provides nothing more than an imitation, which denies the viewer an understanding of the symbolic nature of the play. The integral and perpetual principle of the play is the fusion of interior and exterior worlds, in which can be applied to a contemporary audience. As this not only denotes Chekhov’s symbolic gesture to comedy and tragedy, it allows for a visual dramaturgical standpoint in staging the dramatic text. If the description of a sound of a broken string is not to be taken literally, all other stage directions should be able to be questioned if they are possible to be reconstructed, and by what means.