- Shakespeare and Chekhov in Performance and Reception: Theatrical Events and Their Audiences
This book is the fruit of extensive empirical research, using a variety of methodologies, into audience reception. Shakespeare and especially Chekhov are the vehicles for a series of studies, principally undertaken in Australia and Britain. As one expects from John Tulloch, the analysis is underpinned by a thorough consideration of relevant theories, here derived variously from theatre, film, media, and cultural studies, concerning theatrical event, audience response and reception, spectatorship, and reading formation. Both in outlining this theoretical matrix and in the analyses of his case studies, Tulloch convincingly interrogates and extends existing paradigms. He draws on Peter Eversmann's yet-to-be-published work exploring how audiences relate to aspects of theatrical performance across interacting "perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and communicative dimensions" (11) and particularly on Willmar Sauter's concept of the theatre event as communication involving four intersecting elements (the intersections signalled by the wordplay in their designations: playing culture, cultural contexts, contextual theatricality, and theatrical playing). In his focus on local, contextualized theatre ethnographies, Tulloch also uses theories of risk modernity to claim recognition for the dimension of individual subjectivities that postmodernism fails to acknowledge adequately.
The presentation of case studies is structured principally around two different approaches to research into audiences (with some useful overlap between these approaches). The first, derived from media and cultural studies, examines audience responses in terms of productions' attempts to situate spectator positions. Two chapters deal with Trevor Griffiths' seminal version of The Cherry Orchard, commissioned by Richard Eyre for a production at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1977 and subsequently directed by Eyre for BBC television in 1981. Although the chapter's title invokes both productions, which represent the most radical challenge to the ideology underlying British Chekhov tradition, Tulloch's audience research actually focuses on only the television [End Page 127] version. (Unfortunately, the year for the stage production is given as 1987 (84) and, on one occasion, the date for the television production is stated as 1983 (85). Incidentally, on the same page, there is a mistaken reference to Act Two instead of Act One).
While I am largely sympathetic to the arguments in this section, certain aspects are problematic. Elsewhere Tulloch establishes the contexts of reception scrupulously, but not so convincingly here. The seventeen groups of audiences for this project are initially identified as students of Russian or of drama. However, it emerges that "drama" embraces both theatre and English; this blurring proves dubious when comparisons are made between the responses of Russian students and those of drama students. English programs and theatre programs, like Russian ones, constitute distinct interpretive communities, whose different paradigms of reading formation might well shape significantly variant responses.
Although we are told where these surveys took place, we are not told when. However, when was evidently at least a decade after Eyre's Cherry Orchard was televised. Not only would assessment of techniques of design, lighting, and camera work inevitably be affected by changes in television production during the intervening years, but also the students who watched this Cherry Orchard did so in a very different context than that of the early period of Thatcherism, with which the television production was inflected when first broadcast. Tulloch inadvertently highlights the latter issue when reporting elsewhere that, when Mary-Anne Gifford (director of the Shakespeares featured in the book) directed The Cherry Orchard in 1997, she was disinclined to use Griffiths' translation because his Trofimov reminded her of early seventies lefties (45).
Tulloch concludes that a "relatively small minority" of respondents accepted the spectator positions that the producers of the BBC Cherry Orchard sought to contrive (152); many respondents were apparently heavily influenced by traditional Chekhov scholarship and teaching. The shaping of those positions, though, is not always accurately represented or attributed. For instance, only 13 per cent of students read Trofimov as "social force and agent of change" (138). Although this may have been contrary to Griffiths' intent, Eyre, who cast...