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Unlike the theatre, there is no established tradition of plays being revived (new productions made from existing scripts) on television. The only instance of this mode of production in Britain has been the regular adaptation of classic theatrical plays. The existence of three separate BBC versions of Chekhov's Cherry Orchards (1962, 1971, 1981) creates a rare opportunity to trace developing styles of direction and performance in studio television drama through three different interpretations of the same scene. Through close analysis of Cherry Orchards, I outline the aesthetic and technological development of television drama itself over twenty years.
Why is the cherry orchard almost entirely absent from the stage? How does this absent landscape function dramatically? Chekhov's own garden expertise supports a study of the way that landscape in this play—its presence at once pervasive and virtual—both transcends and subverts the functions of setting. Such a reading of the function of landscape leads us to new ways of answering old questions about the play, as well: is the orchard more or other than a symbol? is the play a comedy? I examine the features and conventions of an orchard and garden landscape as they collide with characters' apprehension of the orchard as a repository of the past, and with Lopahin's plans—radical, practical and Romantic—for its future. The orchard's fate parallels the dispersal and re-definition of the family; that shared human and landscape drama can be read to show how landscape is constructed and how that construct depends upon, reflects, and may subvert human intentions.
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