Monday, 1 October 2012

Dr Astrov blogs

Astrov (Laurence Olivier) and Elena (Rosemary Harris) 
in Uncle Vanya
Wallace Heim writes

Dr Astrov is a new blog on ‘arts / culture and environmental sustainability’. Ian Rimington is the writer. He works as a Relationship Manager specialising in environmental sustainability and theatre at Arts Council England, but the blog expresses his personal views.

In his opening blog, Ian visits the British Museum with his son, fascinated by the dominating sculptural figure of the Easter Island statue Hoa Hakananai’a (Hidden Friend). The Ancestor Cult that produced these figures gave way during a time of environmental devastation and extinctions to the Birdman Cult. On the back of the sculpture, marks have been added from that newer cult, more like graffiti than the monumental face. In the differences between these carvings, Ian finds evidence of the changing relations of art and culture to the environment.

Another Pacific island features in a second blog, as Ian attends a read-through of Pitcairn, a new play by Richard Bean. The play tells of the events following the mutiny on the Bounty after Christian Fletcher and the sailors tried to set up a paradise republic there at the end of the 18th Century. This leads on to how the reason beloved of the Enlightenment falls short against the forces of values, beliefs and intuition, and to how art might produce behavioural changes.

The blog is aptly named. Dr Astrov is the visionary physician-philosopher in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, who presciently grasped the principles of ecology and the ethical relations of humans to nature. His worry that the forests were disappearing forever, rivers drying up and the climate ruined was assuaged by his own planting of sapling birches. In Act III, he shows Elena, who neither understands nor is interested, his maps of the changes in the landscape, the losses of farms, animals, forests. “(Man) destroys everything with no thought for the morrow. And now pretty well everything has been destroyed, but so far nothing new has been put in its place”.

We look forward to following Dr Astrov.

Here is a clip of that Act III scene with Astrov (Laurence Olivier) and Elena (Rosemary Harris) in the 1943 film.

Chekhov, a proto-environmentalist, is one of our playwrights revisited

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