Our critics rating: 
Tuesday, 14 June, 2011
Review by: 
Peter Brown

This is a new version of Anton Chekhov's comedy 'The Seagull', first produced in 1896, here translated by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley, who also directs. In developing their new translation, these three have also decided to amend the title, by losing the definite article, so the play becomes simply 'Seagull'. Don't let that put you off, though, because this is a studied revival which, even if it is a little on the long side, nevertheless provides fresh insights.

It's not all comedy though in this intense consideration of artistic and romantic ambitions. The denouement is definitely tragic as symbolist writer Konstantin eventually manages to get his aim right and kills himself. Though the event is telegraphed almost from the start of the play, it's nonetheless moving and poignant, giving a golly edge to the comedy.

The play is set on Sorin's country estate. Assembled there are some of his relatives, the estate manager's family and some local residents. The moody and anxious Konstantin, is in love with Nina. Sorin's sister, Arkadina, is an actress and mother to Konstantin who is with her partner, Trigorin, a famous writer. A local doctor, Dorn, is present in both a social and professional capacity. And the rest of the cast is made up of the estate manager, Shamraev, his wife, Polina and daughter Masha who is being energetically courted by the impoverished teacher Medevenko whose mind is as much focused on the price of commodities as it is on landing himself a wife.

Young and old, art and romance, the established and the ambitious all get contrasted in this play. For example, the younger characters are all either looking for love or, like, Konstantin, want recognition and appreciation. The older, more established characters are not exactly enamoured with new art. Konstantin's mother regards his work as 'tedious rubbish', yet baulks at any hint of criticism about her acting abilities. Only the local doctor sees anything interesting in Konstantin's work - a play - but that's not sufficient to prevent his demise.

Since this is an ensemble piece, what really matters is the interactions between the characters, and Joseph Blatchley orchestrates his team flawlessly, providing a good balance between the intense, emotional scenes and the more humorous moments in the play. An excellent cast produce engaging, well-defined characters. You can almost tell from the start that Al Weaver's nervy, anxious and broody Konstantin isn't long for this world. Similarly, Jodie McNee's splendid Masha signals her own demise by wearing a black dress, explaining that she is 'mourning my own life'. Geraldine James is full of her own self-importance as the actress Arkadina, and Yolanda Kettle (making her professional debut) makes the transition between country girl striving for love and unsuccessful city actress jilted by her lover, seem easy.

The second Chekhov play in recent months at the Arocla, 'Seagull' is a well-executed revival which I found extremely enjoyable. It was also extremely well-received by the enthusiastic audience who seemed thoroughly absorbed throughout.

(Peter Brown)


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