The House That Chekhov Built

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BBC Radio 4, 19 January 2010
Jo Meek's documentary was constructed in the form of an odyssey, as the actor Michael Pennington fulfulled a lifelong ambition to visit the house near Yalta where Chekhov composed some of his greatest work - The Cherry Orchard, for instance. Now owned by the state, the large, rambling house has elegantly planned gardens - planted by Chekhov himself - including cherry trees and other vegetation. Inside the house there are relics of Chekhov's working life; his writing-desk and chair, and the sofa where he relaxed at the end of an intense creative stint. Following Chekhov's death in 1904, his sister (described as the "priestess of the temple") kept the house going for a further fifty years, after which it became the property of the Soviet government.
At present, however, the house's future remains uncertain. It is now owned by the local Crimean government, which does not appear to have the same proprietorial concern for its welfare. Pennington emphasized the fact that visiting the house had the same kind of spiritual effect on him as visiting Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford; it expresses the author's character, personality and beliefs. However this doesn't provide a justification for keeping it going, particularly for a government which does not acknowledge Chekhov as one of its own. The programme ended on a sombre note, with Pennington expressing the hope that the house would not be pulled down; to do so would be an act of extreme cultural vandalism. Perhaps the Russians should collaborate with the Ukranians in an act of cultural friendship to ensure its continued future.