Examining the complex nature of human relationships, this adaptation from the Olivier Award-winning playwright brings passionate jealousy, unrequited love, artistic vision and a deep fear of aging to the forefront. More than anything, though, this production oozes humour. It is shatteringly funny, and uniquely so. It doesn’t force you to laugh - there’s no pause while the cast wait for a response - instead every quick-fire sentence brings laughter with it. It seemed to ripple through the audience as particular speeches rang true from person to person, and this continued for the entirety of the play.
Even in moments of heart-wrenching sadness, The Seagull radiates warmth. For instance when suicidal Konstantin (Brian Vernel), crushed once again by his impervious actress mother Irina (Lesley Sharp), crawls trembling across the ground to crouch sobbing under a table, or when Peter (Nicolas Tennant) is wheeled in 20 years later during Act 4 coughing up what is left of his lungs. Even after Nina (Adelayo Adedayo) arrives for the last time at the estate, thin, desolate and more than slightly mad, with her dreams of becoming a famous actress quashed, somehow even in these scenes there is a certain bizarre hilarity to be found.
It really is testament to both the performers and the director Sean Holmes that the cast were able to maintain such joy in the audience throughout. The acting itself is no less than flawless, with a few stand-out performances that are due a mention. Adedayo, who you may recognise from her lead role in the BBC series Some Girls, proved that she is more than just a comedy actor. She came into her own in Act 4 with her raw portrayal of Nina’s emotional turmoil, a far cry from the doe-eyed innocence she displayed in earlier scenes. Nina’s sorrow is matched by Vernel in his quivering interpretation of Nina’s spurned lover, the artistic perfectionist Konstantin. The doctor Hugo was a fantastic character, warm, intriguing and wonderfully portrayed by Paul Higgins. Boris, the disreputable “real writer” played by Nicholas Gleaves, commands the stage in one scene with his impassioned speech about his obsession with writing and the lack of pleasure that he takes from it.
Of course, one cannot forget Lesley Sharp’s performance. Omnipresent is the word to describe Irina; she occupies the minds of everyone on stage and in the auditorium. Her melodramatic oddities, deranged changeability, skill in effortless manipulation and unexpected moments of humanity make for a fascinating portrayal of one of Chekhov’s most notorious characters.
The set design is spot-on from Hyemi Shin. It’s uncluttered, with the estate’s empty rooms and just a few trees adorned with fairy-lights for the scenes by the lake, anything more and it would have taken away from the performances of the cast. Particularly effective are the see-through tarpaulin sheets, draped across the stage during the final act, which bring a clinical feel to the play’s traumatic conclusion.
Undeniably, Simon Stephens’ dialogue brings something special to Chekhov’s work. Devastatingly bold in both its hilarity and its heartbreak, this production of The Seagull is an unmissable piece of theatre.
The Seagull Tickets are available now.