Chekov’s last play was The Cherry Orchard, a typically cheery little number in which an aristocratic Russian woman (Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya) and her family return to their family estate – which includes a large cherry orchard – just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. The family is given several options to save the estate, but essentially does nothing, resulting in it sale to a serf and the demise of the orchard, in an allegory for the futility of the Russian aristocracy’s early 20th century attempts to preserve its status.
The great thing about plays, of course, is not only can they be re-staged time after time, the same actors can come back to them at later stages of their lives, offering different interpretations, perhaps even of different characters. For example, in a televised version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1962 production, Dame Judi Dench played Anya, Madame Ranevskaya’s daughter, alongside John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Dorothy Tutin. And in 1981 BBC production, she played Madame Ranevskaya herself, alongside Bill Paterson and Timothy Spall. And you can watch them both below to compare and contrast. As always, if you like them, buy them on DVD.