Congratulations to Dr Rosamund Bartlett and Michael Pennington who have raised £30,000 for the repair of the house in Yalta where Chekhov wrote The Cherry Orchard. I visited this excellent museum in 2005 and it's worth preserving as a living link to Chekhov's life which has remained unspoiled and untouched since his death in 1904. I went to two of the fundraising events at the Hampstead Theatre, all of which were sellouts. On Wednesday Richard Eyre led a fascinating talk on Chekhov's major plays, and I found myself nodding in agreement at everything he said -- quite annoying, really. Pennington and three other actors, including Harriet Walter, acted out some short scenes. Last night Simon Russell Beale read Chekhov's short story Verochka, and William Fiennes talked about it. Between them they highlighted the wonderful sense of ambiguity and the way Chekhov uses subtext. Dr Bartlett, who started the campaign to raise funds for the struggling museum and its dedicated staff in Yalta, gave a short presentation with slides and stressed the importance of Chekhov's humanist values at a time when Russia seems once again to be on an authoritarian path. It may seem quite daft that Russia and Ukraine between them can't find the money to keep the Yalta house, which should be one of the world's great literary museums, in good repair, but that's a reflection of the poor relations between Moscow and Kiev. Pennington announced last night that Yevgeny Lebedev and his father Alexander (owners of the Evening Standard) have agreed to match the £30,000 with a similar sum. So let's hope this is a story with a happy ending, unlike most of Chekhov's plays.
Footnote: one thing that increasingly irritates me about English-language actors in Chekhov is their inability to pronounce Russian names correctly, which basically means understanding where the stress falls. I'm going to be posting a Simple Actor's Guide To Pronouncing Chekhov's Names shortly. Once it's out there, I intend to be merciless with anyone who ignores it.