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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Actors Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale and Daniela Nardini feature in BBC Radio season celebrating 150th anniversary of Anton Chekhov's birth

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Anton Chekhov's birth, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 7 broadcast a range of documentary and drama as well as short-stories and essays starting in January 2010.

A stellar line-up of contributors to the Radio 3 season includes the actors Simon Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw and Daniela Nardini.

The season begins on 19 January 2010 with a Radio 4 documentary The House That Chekhov Built in which actor Michael Pennington journeys to Yalta for an inside-view of Chekhov's home, life and works. As a campaign to save his crumbling house culminates, Michael meets the individuals fighting to keep Chekhov's personal and literary legacy alive.

Radio 3's Twenty Minutes To Chekhov's Memory (22 January) features actor Ben Whishaw, who has dazzled audiences in Jane Campion's recent film Bright Star about the poet Keats. Ben reads the words of Alexander Kuprin who gives a rare, first-hand account of Chekhov in his later years including a picture of his life in Yalta, the regular visits from aspiring writers, his sensitivity to critics, and his uneasy relationship with his two dogs – Tusik and Kashtan.

From 25 to 29 January BBC Radio audiences can enjoy three different Chekhov offerings each day. Radio 3's The Essay series features Timberlake Wertenbaker, Simon Russell Beale, Ruth Thomas and others as they reflect on Chekhov's craft and how it has influenced them.

Radio 4 presents a new Woman's Hour drama, About Love, starring Michael Pennington as the great Russian author in a dramatised series of his short stories.

It is the spring of 1901 and Anton Chekhov, a middle-aged man in the prime of his career, is talking about marriage. He wonders if he should take this step with the love of his later life, Olga Knipper. He explores the themes of love and marriage which represent five contrasting, but connected, perspectives on marriage, love and lovelessness.

The stories are dramatised by Martyn Wade from the recent translations by Rosamund Bartlett, played by a repertory cast comprising Jasper Britton, Philip Voss, Zoe Waites and Nicholas Boulton and directed by Jane Morgan and Philip Franks.

Meanwhile, A Life Of Chekhov, Irene Nemirovsky's biography of Anton Chekhov, adapted for radio by Michael Hastings, is broadcast each day on Radio 7.

Radio 3's Drama On 3 brings two great productions. On 24 January there is a repeat of the terrific production of The Cherry Orchard, first broadcast in December 2008 and starring legendary film actress Sarah Miles as the luminous Madame Ranevskaia. She heads a cast that includes Anne-Marie Duff, Matthew Marsh and Susannah Fielding. This is followed with a new production of The Seagull (31 January) starring Siobhan Redond as Arkadina and Daniela Nardini as Polina.

Shortly before he died in 1904 Anton Chekhov predicted that he would be remembered for perhaps seven-and-a-half years. In Radio 3's Sunday Feature, Chekhov's Seven And A Half Years (24 January), striking new translations by Sasha Dugdale are weaved together with analysis, personal memory and extracts to offer homage to the great writer one hundred and seven-and-a-half years after he made his remark.

Presented by theatre critic Susannah Clapp, the programme hears from, amongst others, the distinguished playwright and translator, Michael Frayn. Award-winning actress Anna Maxwell Martin plays the oldest of the three sisters, Olga, in extracts from Chekhov's penultimate play Three Sisters.

On 30 January, Radio 3's Between The Ears continues to push creative boundaries with Chekhov Challenge, which looks at how to create a particularly challenging sound effect needed in Act II of The Cherry Orchard. Between The Ears includes the views of, amongst others, leading sound designer Paul Arditti, who mixed industrial, musical and bird sounds for the recent staging of the play by Sam Mendes.

Radio 3's The Verb mark the anniversary by launching a story competition inspired by Chekhov. Listeners will be encouraged to use the title from one of Chekhov's intriguingly named short stories as a springboard for their own 1,000-word tale.

Verb presenter and wordsmith Ian McMillan will judge the entries together with celebrated novelist Janice Galloway. The winner's story will be read on The Verb in February.

The programme will also celebrate Chekhov's drama with a little help from radical theatre group The Factory, who will be improvising extracts from Chekhov's greatest works in a live edition of The Verb from the BBC Radio Theatre on 29 January.

Meanwhile Radio 7 celebrates Chekhov with a collection of archive recordings of classic drama and short-stories.

Highlights include the plays Uncle Vanya (24 January) and Wild Honey (31 January) and a clutch of short-stories including the broadcasts of An Incident (25 January), Play (26 January), The Old House (27 January), Ivan Matveyitch (28 January) and Bad Weather (29 January).


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