For the new Black Swan State Theatre Company production, Adriane Daff and Katherine Tonkin have taken Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchardand shifted the action to 1980s Western Australia. The recently freed, impoverished Russian serfs become hardscrabble Australian roustabouts, immigrant servants and the Indigenous Nyoongar peoples. Russian aristocrats who trace their lineage back to first boyar families become Australia’s more recent white landowning dynasties, like the great squatter barons of the East coast, or the Duracks and the Forrests of the West. Daff’s and Tonkin’s version of the play is nevertheless not so much a translation of Chekhov’s famous work, as an airy deconstruction, or setting free, of the characters and their themes.

The cast of The Cherry Orchard. Photograph © Daniel J Grant

Chekhov himself insisted that The Cherry Orchardwas a comedy. The 1904 premiere though was a staid naturalistic version, defining the play ever since as a bittersweet historical portrait where every aspect of the script and its staging, from the furniture which the foolish aristocratic brother Gayev publicly toasts, to the now unproductive cherry orchard, becomes part of...

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