Chekhov’s play The Seagull can easily be staged as a Puccini-esque 19th Century melodrama moving between affected solo arias and perfectly orchestrated chorus scenes (as the unfortunately successful 1898 production by Stanislavsky demonstrated). Luckily for Chekhov (and for us) Blanche McIntyre’s production makes none of these mistakes.
At first sight, the play revolves around a series of intricate sleaves of unrequited love. The play is set on the country estate of Petr (Colin Haigh), a veteran civil servant. Petr is the uncle of the impetuous young writer Konstantin (Alexander Cobb) who is as infatuated with the impressionable country girl Nina (Pearl Chanda) as he is with revolutionizing theatre. Konstantin’s mother Irina (Abigail Cruttenden), a fading star of Moscow’s stages, likes to keep the middlebrow novelist Boris (Gyuri Sarossy) around, much to her son’s displeasure. Apart from occupational jealousy, the experience and success of Boris attract Nina’s attention in her hope to become an artist. Masha (Jenny Rainsford), the daughter of the estate manager, is in love with Konstantin and her mother Polina (Catherine Cusack) has a thing for the doctor Yevgeny (David Beames). As the play unfolds, it becomes clear that its subject is really the creation of art and the position of the artist as exemplified by the two agonized writers Konstantin and Boris.
This excellent production of Chekhov’s classic is a welcome moment of respite from the tedium of Trinity’s tired garden plays. Cruttenden shone in her portrayal of the bored actress who has seen it all. Cobb expertly played the feverish youth and the old men Haigh and Beames convincingly undulate between wry humor and self-pity.
What makes this production relevant is that it successfully transposes Chekhov’s ironic comment on the symbolist movement into a damning criticism of pretension and false metaphor in contemporary art. Konstantin’s staging of his theatrically experimental play (within a play) is an outstanding example of this translation as is the deft handling of Chekhov’s own references and echoes of Hamlet. In places where Chekhov is open to (erroneous) sentimental interpretation, his original irony is heightened as is evident in Boris’ pathetic breakdown visualized through onstage masturbation.
Sometimes this production’s cleverness seems to run away with it a little. The first act’s stage becomes a platform in Act 3 and a table in Act 4, but for some inexplicable reason dominates the stage during the second act as a seesaw. Writing on the wall creates an original transition between the first and the second act, but becomes rather tedious (ironically so, one would hope) as the play progresses. Despite these minor quibbles, this production of John Donnelly’s version of Chekhov’s masterpiece is well acted and captures its original author’s intellectual and elemental vigor. A thoroughly enjoyable evening. Strongly recommended.
PHOTO / Tristram Kenton