Anja Susa

“This version of “Cherry Orchard” is trying to deal with the present moment that the western cultures don’t really know how to handle"

We had the oppurtunity to talk to the director of The Cherry Orchard, Anja Suša.

How come that you work so much with theatre in Sweden? How did it start?

It started with the performance 5BOYS.COM which I made in the Backa Teater in 2012. That performance in a way marked my way not only to Swedish theatre but outside of the Serbian theatre that I had been a part of for most of my professional career up to that point. It also overlapped with my decision to dedicate my entire theatre work to directing, which was a major and very important decision, since before that I had been very active with other theatre duties, as the CEO and Artistic Manager of the most famous Serbian theatre for children and young audience: Little Theatre Dusko Radovic in Belgrade and as a Curator of the Belgrade International Theatre Festival (Bitef).

I spent nearly 15 years trying to juggle both activities and at some point it became too exhausting. So, I decided to be “only” a director for a while, because that makes me most joyful. From that moment on, the other door opened and I started working more internationally in different countries such as Slovenia, Denmark, Croatia, Poland and quite a lot in Sweden. I would say that it has been a pleasant and enriching experience. I have worked in different Swedish theaters (Helsingborgs Stadsteater, Uppsala Stadsteater, Backa Teater and now here) and I have always had nothing but wonderful encounters with both ensembles and audience that made me grow and develop as an artist. I am very thankful for this wonderful opportunity. I still feel that I have something to give to the Swedish theatre and learn a lot from this experience. So, as long as I am wanted here, I will be happy to return.

Tell us little about your aesthetics and your choice of plays.

It’s hard to talk about my aesthetics, since it’s not something solid and closed that I can articulate so easily. It is very often not even possible to rationalize my artistic strategies. I work the way I feel and I never bring my performances in a suitcase. I rely very much on what I get from a certain context and the people I am working with. I try to inspire them, and then I usually get a lot in return. As for the plays, it depends largely on a theatre I work in as well as on the level of freedom I get in choosing a play.

Sometimes I find a play that suits my needs and sometimes a play finds me. Some of the best performances that I have done so far, were made with the plays that were not initially my choice. But there is one rule, however, that I stick to. I never do something that I am not interested in both as an artist and as a human being. I have also very often worked with a non-textual materials or plays in a traditional sense. On the other hand I have staged, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Bergman and now Chekhov. I would rather say that I am mostly interested more in a topic than a play itself.

You are combining a modern visual expression with serious themes and current topics. At your website you earlier had this quote by Brecht: Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it. And in an interview you said something like The theatre cant start revolutions but it can raise the awareness among people. I would say this is the theatres responsibility. If we can achieve the goal to inspire even one person to think, we have come a long way."

Can you please develop how your version of "The Cherry Orchard" here and now fits in this mentioned above.

In the same way it fitted in Chekhov’s Russia. He wrote this play with an intention to talk about the sensitive period in Russian history at the beginning of the twentieth century and a lot of different social and political tendencies that marked that specific moment between feudalism and industrial capitalism. He was particularly referring to Russia firmly believing that this play would never make it anywhere else because of all the"Russian-ness" in it.

I really believe whenever someone decides to stage “Cherry Orchard” it needs to be about “here and now” wherever the “here and now” is. The title of the play is such a strong metaphor for political and social apathy and lack of awareness both on a daily-political and existential level. The Orchard is the massive, hulking presence at the play's center of gravity; everything else revolves around and is drawn towards it.

The obsession with the past that never really existed the way we would like to remember it is one of the fundamental questions of this play as well as the issue of identity - both very big and important topics the contemporary Europe is struggling with at the moment.

So, this version of “Cherry Orchard” is trying to deal with the present moment that the western cultures don’t really know how to handle, rather choosing a false past usually represented by strong national identities that inevitably leads to new forms of neoliberal extremisms which as a result have this very sad image of Europe we live in nowadays. It’s an attempt to rather escape future which is too scary and insecure, than to face the present in its entire complexity and make it better. That tendency is best described by the notion of “Retrotopia” as proposed by Zygmunt Bauman. Paradoxically, our performance begins where the Chekhov’s play ended - with the neoliberal capitalism moving forward to the new forms of slavery which look very much like the feudalism that is considered in the play as something that belongs to the past. And it is, strangely enough, our reality.

Chekhov said his last play was a comedy. How do you relate to that?

I agree with it. But there are different levels of funny and different kinds of laughing at things. I think that all the humor in this play is coming from the feeling of the complete absurdity of the human existence which is torn apart between the desire to reach something great and actual inability to do so. It’s definitely not a cheap comedy, though. I believe that many people will not laugh out loud - but that’s not the only thing that makes up a good comedy. The debate over whether the play is in fact a comedy or a drama still goes on to this day.

What do you want the audience to carry in their hearts and thoughts when going home? The idea that they can make a change - if they stop believing that somebody else would do it for them.

Ann Waldeborn