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The Seagull – Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Director: Blanche McIntyre

Writer: John Donnelly after Anton Chekkov

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

[rating:4]

 

The SeagullThe Seagull portrays fulfilment alongside disappointment, unrequited love, romantic conflict, creativity and emotion. Masha (Jenny Rainsford) the steward’s daughter always wears black because she is “in mourning for my life”. For a play primarily about unhappy people, this show contains a lot of humour.

Set in Petr’s (Colin Haigh), home by the lake, the retired civil servant receives his sister, the fading actress Irina (Abigail Cruttenden) and her lover, the famous writer Boris (Gyuri Sarossy). The opening scene sets up the various romantic triangles, introducing all the characters. Irina’s son Konstantin (Alexander Cobb) an aspiring symbolist playwright adores the ingénue Nina (Pearl Chanda) from the neighbouring estate; from on the plot thickens. The eleven actors overall are strong, Haigh gives a charming drôle performance, capturing a feel of the period he inhabits. Cobb is a very convincing son, truthfully delivering a youthful naivety to the character, even the silent hired help Yakov (Eddie Eyre) establishes a strong character, continually passing through the action giving movement to often static scenes.

It is a joy to hear the spoken word delivered with such clarity.

The Critics Circle Award winning director for most promising newcomer, Blanche McIntyre, tackles this production head on. She gives the abrasive dialogue an added intensity, paring it back and even has the actors directly address the audience. The simple set (Laura Hopkins) lends a stark backdrop to the play, serving well to focus attention on the text. Basically a large wooden bench which transforms from a jetty to a sea saw to a table; big and strong like the scenes it inhabits. The backdrop, a blank neutral canvas has various grey shapes daubed on it is grey, not an inspiring colour. Hopkins also designed the ‘grey’ costumes, modern in feel; this went with the staging but when an actor states she spends a fortune on her wardrobe, black slacks, cardie and jeans do not hit the mark. The self-indulgent over theatrical Irina says she knows “how to make an entrance” and instead of entering like a mum, a different wardrobe may help her make ‘an entrance’. Much of the play is in subdued (Guy Hoare) lighting, intensifying the action; the fact audience attention is not weakened by this shows the strength of the production.

Chekhov’ work is character driven, full of subtext, the ‘action’ taking place off stage, unlike Irina’s ‘persuasive’ approach to Boris which seems more visually played for humour than purely relying on the spoken word which can be so much more powerful. This new Donnelly version is a good example of Headlong’s reputation for its revisionist approach to the classics. It is a co-production between Headlong and The Nuffield Theatre Southampton in association with Derby Theatre.

Written by the Russian Chekhov in 1895, The Seagull is generally acclaimed as one of the greatest plays of the modern era. It was written in a political time of transition, when values were changing, much as today, one of the themes is the future of the theatre. Apart from Konstantin, this production misses the essential ‘feeling’ of that era, making it difficult to appreciate some of the nuances of the original. Powerful writing, real characters are as real now as when they were written. Shakespeare in modern dress does not need to change the words. “Can I change the words?” asks Nina, “NO” shouts Konstantin, “because then it becomes something else” This applies to this version, while still retaining its essential ingredients, characters and power, the play has become something else, losing something in transition.

 

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