The Seagull review - Emilia Clarke shines in her West End debut

The Seagull, starring Emilia Clarke, is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre through 10 Sept.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

There’s a moment at the beginning of Jamie Lloyd’s new production of The Seagull where Indira Varma, as the famed-yet-fading actress Irina, turns to Emilia Clarke, as the budding ingenue Nina, and compliments her beauty and her talent, saying she’ll likely have a great deal of success in films and in Hollywood. At the gala night performance on Thursday, the audience erupted in knowing laughter.

Of course, the celebrated star, known worldwide for her performance as the mother of dragons Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones, has already achieved that success, but here she is on the precipice of something new: a West End debut.

That meta-theatricality permeates Anya Reiss’s modern adaptation, which trades whatever people drove in Chekhov’s time for Land Rovers and other anachronistic references. The script is always a play-within-a-play, but here there’s almost a third level added, as the company puts on Konstantin’s play first only to then transition to the title at hand.

Lloyd’s production is ripe for interpretation, as Soutra Gilmour’s stripped-down set consists of a line of schoolroom chairs, a plywood box, and Jackie Shemesh’s fluorescent lighting. There is nothing to distract from the performances which are central to Reiss’s wit and engaging takes on Chekhov’s language. Much of it feels similar to Lloyd’s spoken-word interpretation of Cyrano, which blended modern verse with the classic story.

Only here, we see Chekhov’s famed story and theatrical structures as a reflection of our current world, one that is divided and plagued with class divisions and sorrow and anxiety. Though even with the everpresent “mourning,” there’s a surprising amount of laughter. Reiss’s telling hits the human spirit with great exactitude. Much of the observations feel like they were plucked from today’s ruminations.

The actors are all well-cast in their roles and work together like a team, never leaving the stage. Varma is magnificent as Irina, while Tom Rhys Harries is striking as the divisive and brooding Trigorin. Daniel Monks’s Konstantin portrays every depth of sorrow there is, and Robert Glenister delivers a sympathetic and endearing Sorin.

Clarke doesn’t have to do much to stand out as Nina; the part calls for a magnetic actress and Clarke exudes charisma and likeability. That’s not to say that she doesn’t possess some fine theatrical chops. She’s able to convey an intimacy in her performance that fills the space through small gestures and passing looks. It’s hard to keep your eyes off her. Even when Nina descends into the same misery her compatriots possess, Clarke’s quality never wavers. She is the seagull, onstage and off.

The Seagull, starring Emilia Clarke, is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre through 10 Sept. Book tickets to The Seagull.

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Photo credit: Emilia Clarke in The Seagull (Photo by Marc Brenner)

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