Creating Kampung Chekhov: elements of cross-cultural language transfer in a theatrical adaptation

Derek Irwin, University of Nottingham, Malaysia campus

The adaptation of theatrical performances is a challenge, and even more so when such performances are being moved across both time and cultural space. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904) is one of the early key figures in the modernism movement, and although best known for his later, full-length plays such as Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904), he also wrote several shorter comedic one-acts earlier in his career. Three of these – On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (1886), The Bear or The Boor (1888) and The Marriage Proposal (1888-9) – were chosen to be restaged at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus this year, with the setting shifted to a local village, or kampung, called Broga. This paper examines how this shift was achieved in terms of language systems, from the cultural to the lexicogrammatical (with some mention of the phonetic in terms of performance), and with particular focus on the intervening strata of the semiotic. It does so under the assumption that any choices made for the stage are particularly salient both in terms of their role in verbal art (following Hasan 1975, 1985 and 2007), lexicogrammatical categorisation (using Halliday and Matthiessen 2014 and following earlier editions) and ultimately cultural production, as reflected by the understanding of the particular points of articulation chosen by these students to be changed via their efforts at “Malaysianising” Chekhov. Through this examination, our understanding of inter- and multi-cultural linguistic performance is enhanced, along with the systems which underlie the ability to make such choices. Further, we can begin to make a foray into systems of adaptation, intertextuality, and other literary realms in order to see how these concepts may interact with notions of verbal art and (in particular) registerial configuration of whole texts.

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