Pros: Brilliant and compelling performances from the lead actors, and the scenic backdrop effectively captures the simplicity and stillness of the natural setting.
Cons: Overall the cast is successful in connecting with the true interior lives of these characters, but there are moments where you can tell they are being governed by their own performances.
Two big concepts, and Anton Chekhov puts them both in one play. Love and art; two subjects which raise more questions than answers. And two subjects that need longer than a two hour play to understand, not that The Seagull is trying to offer any solution or formula. In fact it is almost the opposite, suggesting there is no right or wrong way, which is arguably the only certainty when it comes to both loving, and making art.
Chekhov sets the play against the backdrop of a tranquil lake bordered by elm trees. This scenery is beautifully captured in this small theatre by a painted canvas covering the walls. Though it is clearly two dimensional, the simplicity of the design provides a nice contrast against the more chaotic drama unfolding between the characters.
The central plot revolves around Arkadina (Louise Templeton) a famous but now aging actress who dominates with a vanity born of success. Her son Konstantin (Kim Hardy) strives to gain his mother’s love, to define himself as an artist, and win the heart of Nina (Julia Papp), who is a poor country girl with aspirations of becoming an actress. When Nina falls in love with Trigorin (Michael Luke Walsh), a famous writer who is involved with Arkadina the agonies of love and art are expressed. As hard as they try to disguise their true desires, or protect themselves from admitting the truth, their vulnerabilities and flaws are eventually exposed.
For this play to work the way Chekhov has written it the actors need to be honest and real in their depictions. To achieve this, the cast has practiced the Meisner Technique, which helps them to access the emotional life of these fictional beings. All actors when embodying a character strive to do this to some degree – to lose themselves in their characters. But in this technique actors try to connect with the spontaneous and instinctive part of the character. Using their imagination and communicating with other performers/characters they should be able to react and respond truthfully and instinctively as that character within the play and the setting. If it works these should appear as real responses, and real behaviors on stage.
In this production you could see when it was working, and this was impressive to watch as an audience. In the opening act Konstantin was playing moment to moment. His lines were delivered with such honesty he was talking as this character, not as an actor. Again in the third act when Konstantin argues with his mother you could see the actors responding to each other freely both in their vocals and their physical reactions. And in the final act Julia Papp, as a broken Nina was so real and deeply connected to all the character’s vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately you could also see when it wasn’t working. There were moments where the actors expressions seemed to be governed more by their own performance, and less by their characters emotions in that moment. You could hear them delivering lines, and telling the audience the story, rather than talking as this character.
Overall the cast conveyed the emotions and insecurities of these complex characters truthfully and passionately. Their approach to the work further demonstrates the desire for honesty and freedom in love and art, which can be seen as the key concerns in The Seagull.
Author: Anton Chekhov
Director: Sebastien Blanc
Producer: Front Foot Theatre
Box Office: 0844 8700 887
Booking Until: 22nd December 2013