Anton Chekhov’s popularity in the west is without parallel for a foreign writer. He has been absorbed into our culture, and accepted as one of our own. His plays lend themselves easily to the stage, calling for actors with intelligence and common sense rather than a dramatic voice or histrionic skills. He takes from everyday life themes of frustration which apply to us all – the difficulty of carving out a happy existence, the problems of love, the fading of hope, the universal feeling that time passes and we never quite get things right.
This seems pessimistic, and yet Chekhov claimed he was writing comedy. Readers, actors and directors must decide for themselves which way to play these pieces. They are full of sadness, but a sadness described as the ‘darkness of the last hour before the dawn’. Whether tragic or comic, however, they are works of the first importance. The Cherry Orchard has been described as ‘the best play since Shakespeare’, Three Sisters as ‘the best play in the world’.