It’s the play with no name, literally. Chekhov’s first play, written in 1878, was never completed despite its estimated five hour length, was never edited or published and it remained untitled. He wrote it for a famous actress he admired but she declined the opportunity so he locked it away. It is claimed that the Bolsheviks ‘discovered’ it in 1921 except it wasn’t lost; after Chekhov’s death his sister put it in a safe deposit box which the Bolsheviks forced open thus ‘discovering’ the manuscript.
Not only untitled but incomplete, the play has been subject to numerous versions, such is the demand for Chekhov’s work. Sydney will soon see a version by Andrew Upton which is billed as The Present (After Chekhov). In the absence of a Chekhovian title, it has received many others; most commonly Platonov after its principal male character, and most successfully by Michael Frayn as Wild Honey.
The varying titles suggest a lack of clarity as to what Chekhov wanted the play to be about but Andrew Upton has taken a clear line in calling it The Present. His setting is the mid-1990s, a hundred years after it was written, in post-Perestroika Russia, arguably as much a time of change as the latter years of the Tsar.
STC has blessed this production with a wonderfully starry cast of 13 including Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Jacqueline McKenzie and Toby Schmidt. But bad luck, all performances are sold out before it opens.
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