21 May 2012

Chekhov in Hell: Love Letters & Hate Mail


Playwright Dan Rebellato
I wrote Chekhov in Hell in a state of amused horror at the world around me.

Amused because there’s so much that delights me about the way we live, our restless creativity, the boundless confidence, technological change, the constant linguistic novelty; and horror because I sometimes wonder if that relentless glitter is a way of coping with a dark seam of cruelty in our societies, in which money devours our hopes and intimacies and imaginations, and resentment scourges the poor and the vulnerable and the clever and the different.

And Chekhov is the man to see all this. I think of him as slightly at a distance from his characters, amused by their vanities, saddened by their delusions. Chekhov the author is like one of those terrifying people who are genuinely comfortable with silence, which makes people like me babble to fill in the gaps, and, in doing so, reveal our shallows. In a way, I think his plays are written in a state of amused horror too and, if only to that extent, my play tries to be Chekhovian.

So it seemed right to bring Chekhov back to see what we’ve done with our world, the world his characters try and fail to imagine. Chekhov is the great observer of people and societies with all their flaws and I have found it bracingly instructive to see our world through his eyes.

I’m a Londoner and I see something of London’s brash chaos in my writing. But the privileges of the playwright is to keep learning about your play as it travels. It’s an honour to find it’s now made its way to one of the coolest cities in the world and I hope Wellington finds something amusingly horrifying in it. It’s part-love letter, part-hate mail, and I can’t wait for you to open it.

Dan Rebellato


Director Eleanor Bishop
As my professor of contemporary theatre at Royal Holloway College, University of London, Dan Rebellato introduced me to an exciting world of new, cutting edge writing – Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Philip Ridley, among others. It totally blew my fragile 20 year old mind. But as well as being a guru on modern British theatre, Dan’s also a fantastic playwright and it’s an honour to introduce Kiwi audiences to his work.

Chekhov In Hell captures the extremes of modern existence - utterly fantastic, breathtakingly and dazzlingly confusing. But underneath the flash and buzzwords, dark, quiet truths briefly leak forth. If this world is so great, why does everyone in the play want to escape it? As Dan notes, Chekhov in Hell is very London, but to me asks very universal and urgent questions about what it means to live in modern society. The characters in the play all have quite pure intentions – they want to do good. But is that enough? Something about the world corrupts and twists their good intent. What do you do? How do we live in this world?

I feel it’s very important for Kiwi audiences to have access to new writing from overseas and in this regard Circa plays a crucial role in the Wellington cultural landscape.  I wish to thank them for welcoming me so warmly. Thank you also to Heather and Branwen for supporting this play right from the start.

Eleanor Bishop

(L-R) Victoria Abbott, Jason Whyte, Heather O'Carroll. Chekhov in Hell. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Chekhov in Hell runs in Circa Two until 9 June - to book, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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