Tag Archives: Trevor Nunn

a Chekhov to bind them

Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the amazing work done with Kali in last Friday’s workshop. I’ve also been reading a lot from directors and actors (past and present) about their impressions about the playwright and his work, thinking specifically about how the Moscow Art Theater basically emerged as Chekhov’s theater, even though he worked with them for only the last 4-5 years of his life (since he died at age 44) and from that union of playwright and an emerging theater company grew so much of the structure, vocabulary and tone of we use in acting and playwriting study and practice today. To that end I wanted to share some observations about ensemble building from Trevor Nunn and Ian McKellen collected inThe Cambridge Companion to Chekhov (2000).

Nunn on gathering a group (which included McKellen) to work on The Three Sisters:

I could see that there was great value in doing a Chekhov; actors know that working on a Chekhov play is like to be a democratic experience and that everybody is required to provide an equal amount of contribution and initiative. The Chekhov play becomes ‘company-forming’ material. (102)

McKellen on his “next” Chekhov project:

I’m going to do Dorn in The Seagull this autumn [1998] at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, with Jude Kelly directing. That play is so essentially about theatre people that a company of actors can bring an awful lot of their own lives to it, even though it was written a hundred years ago and in another country. We’re going to set up a company of actors who can do three or four plays one after the other. As usual, in those circumstances, Chekhov immediately springs to mind as a very good way of binding a group. The major joy of Chekhov is the group that does it. Also, every detail of the relationships between the characters, whether they speak to each other much or not, is very clearly present in the text. It’s very easy and quick to read what the situation is, which isn’t true of Ibsen, for example. Chekhov is a wonderful friend to the actor. (131)