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Polished Revival: The Seagull

30 April 2017

 

The Seagull

by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Torben Betts

Richmond Shakespeare Society, at The Mary Wallace Theatre

Review by Catherine Wilson

By kind permission of Essential Surrey

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Located just off The Embankment at Twickenham, you’ll find a hidden gem, The Mary Wallace Theatre, which for the forthcoming week hosts one of Chekhov’s great works, The Seagull.  As the audience gathers in the auditorium, so too do the cast on stage, a veritable mix of summer guests, assembling for the opening of an avant-garde play set upon an idyllic Russian lake.  It is quickly apparent that this is an ensemble of individuals all who are all deeply concerned with their own self happiness, individually vying for attention and each striving for change.

We are introduced to the playwright Konstantin (a strong performance by Liam Hurley) a man clearly consumed with the pursuit of Art, who is not only suffering in his artistic endeavours but too in the field of love – and he is not the only one.  The subject of his desire is Nina, the protagonist of his play and Magdalena Jablonska sets the pace and standard with a flawlessly over the top performance of Konstantin’s new work.

Through the dialogue Chekov hints to the complex relationships that link the ensemble.  He does not reveal the characters at first encounter, instead the audience must piece together the motives behind each individual’s behaviour.  The play is centred around a string of unrequited love – Simon is in love with Masha, who is in love with Konstantin, who is in love with Nina, who falls in love with Trigorin, who eventually reverts to his affair with Arkadina, who really only loves herself.  This makes for compelling viewing and it is in the intricacies of the characters that the failings and frailty of the human condition is wonderfully portrayed.  Resultantly, the play is as relevant today as when it was written in 1895.

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This is in part due to Torben Betts’ adaptation of the classic, which is a startlingly modern and thrusts the language into the 21st century.  In this, perhaps some of the subtleties in language of the Chekov original are missing, however this is a fast paced evening which was provocative and captivating from start to finish and every actor should be applauded for portraying the variety of characters with realism and insight.

Despite the narcissistic and negative tendencies, we are able to relate and there are many laughs afforded throughout the course of the evening.  Perhaps one of the funniest interactions is between rejected and unheard Simon (Peter Easterbrook) and the brusque and unfulfilled Masha (Rachel Burnham) and yet, despite the comedy we can only feel sympathy as we watch the characters unravel before our eyes.

The play is cleverly staged with the action taking place amongst the aisles, from all angles, and this along with the use of recorded inner thoughts there is a real sense of being an intimate witness to the events unfolding.  The set design, whilst simple, is beautifully evocative and effectively translates the passage of time.

The members of the cast work superbly together with the comedic relief ultimately making the finale all the more poignant and tragic.  For me, Dorothy Duffy as Arkadina is the star of the show (both as a character and actress!) and she is well supported by the self-obsessed Trigorin (Darren McIlroy) and the quiet discontent of Peter (John Mortley).

Richmond Shakespeare Society has created an engaging and interesting production of The Seagull and I look forward to their upcoming season with anticipation.

Catherine Wilson, Essential Surrey

April 2017

Photographs by Simone Best

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From → Drama, Reviews

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