Anton Chekhov, in a new version by John Donnelly
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
Pros: A modern script that pulls Chekhov into the 21st century, with some fantastic, natural performances and a great set.
Cons: Still a little hard to follow for those unversed in Chekhov. Takes a little while to get going.
Our Verdict: An enjoyable show and a great one to see if you want a digestible introduction to Chekhov.
|Courtesy of Tristam Kenton for Headlong
Those of you who have been listening to our Everyone Theatre podcasts will remember that we opened with a chat with Blanche McIntyre, who won the Most Promising Newcomer award from the Critics’ Circle a few years back. She told us about her upcoming touring production of The Seagull, which we were very excited about. Well, we’re glad to say that we have had a chance to see and review this production during its brief stay at the Watford Palace Theatre – so what did we think?
Well, the first thing to note is that Chekhov is a divisive author within the everything theatre team. More precisely, James isn’t a massive fan of Chekhov, whereas I don’t mind a bit of bleak, tragic storytelling from our friends across the Urals. James’ criticisms are valid however – the plot of many of Chekhov’s plays can seem confusing to a western audience. Russian naming conventions for instance can make it fairly difficult to keep track of who the characters are talking about (you might be forgiven for wondering who the mysterious Kostya is if you didn’t know that it’s short for Konstantin). At times Chekhov’s plots do tend to go around in circles or move very slowly. John Donnelly’s adaptation of The Seagull does try to address this by creating a script in a more natural language. In this sense he succeeds. This version is amongst the easiest to follow that I’ve come across and it is also funny (despite the depressing storyline of wasted ambition, ruined lives and suicidal tendencies). Donnelly manages to drag Chekhov’s dark sense of humour into the 21st century. Nonetheless, I’d suggest having a crib sheet of the plot with you if you’re not familiar with the storyline of The Seagull.
Taking advantage of the modernized script by John Donnelly, Blanche McIntyre has revamped The Seagull for a modern audience. Set in the present day, this production feels very fresh. The characters speak like normal people and wear normal clothes. Although it takes a little while to get going, McIntyre’s production gathers momentum and pace to see the play through a tough second half. I felt that McIntyre did a particularly great job of extracting honest and natural performances from her cast – the reactions and tone of Pearl Chanda make you feel like Nina could have been a modern-day naïve teenager, rather than a conceptual character created in the imagination of a 19th century Russian aristocrat. Another cracking performance comes from Guyri Sarossy as Boris Trigorin, the famous writer. Sarossy plays this as a manic, almost crazed, individual and gives new insight into the character, in a way in which I have never seen previously. Each character has a moment to shine, even Eddie Eyre as Yakov – who has no lines. Hats off to this company for giving real depth to very challenging roles.
This show is also gifted with a remarkable production value. The costumes really helped to pull the play into the modern day, and were a nice touch, but for me the standouts were the lighting and set. Guy Hoare created some beautiful fades and transitions, for example in the opening scene. Whilst we wait for the sun to set for the play-within-a-play to begin, we are treated to a very slow fade mimicking dusk. In terms of set, the whole backdrop of the play is a canvas which turns blue when in contact with water. The cast use this to set the scene: lakes, suitcases, manuscripts and storms are evoked, painted on and slowly disappear as the water dries. A truly unique touch.
Overall, this production of The Seagull is great. Modernised for 21st century audiences, it is a breath of fresh air. Some may still find it difficult to follow, but I’d say it is a great introduction to Chekhov for the uninitiated. The production is supported by some cracking performances and a great design, making it well worth catching.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Seagull is touring the UK until 22nd June 2013.
For full details of the tour visit http://headlong.co.uk/work/seagull/tour/. It will return to London at the Richmond Theatre from 29th May to 1st June 2013.