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The Chekhov I love

Evening Standard

19th January 2010

Thirty-five years ago I was travelling across Siberia reading a biography of Chekhov. I had thought I knew all about him: a middle-class playwright in a big hat, and if he had a social conscience he exercised it from his armchair. I stopped at Irkutsk and went to a Soviet liquor store in a comradely spirit to buy a bottle of vodka. The proprietor noticed my book and said there used to be a small hotel on the exact site of her shop where Chekhov once rested on his gruelling journey to the remote island of Sakhalin to report on the shocking prison conditions there.

Chekhov in Siberia - upsetting the government - what was this? I began to see there was much more to this complex and inspiring man than I thought. About the same time I was being urged by a friend to do a one-man show about Chekhov - I had kept saying the idea was ridiculous. In Irkutsk I changed my mind and started work the next day; now I've been playing my show for 25 years, and I always think of Siberian vodka when I do it.

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