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The Seagull – The Derby Theatre

Writer: Anton Chekhov, adapted by John Donnelly

Director: Blanche McIntyre

Reviewer: James Garrington

[rating:3.5]

The Seagull Derby theatre Tristram KentonAnton Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and the first performance in 1896 became known as a famous failure, being performed in front of an extremely hostile audience. Chekhov is said to have lost his nerve and spent the latter part of the play in hiding, announcing that he would never again write for the theatre. It is only when the great Stanislavski directed a production in 1898 that it became generally acknowledged as a success. One of four major plays by Chekhov, it tells the story of the conflicts between the four main characters: writer Boris Trigorin; actress Irina Arkadina; her son, playwright Konstantin Treplev; and young, innocent Nina.

At the time of writing, Russia was a country on the brink of major social and political change, being at the time firmly entrenched in the past while the remainder of Europe was looking towards the future. Within ten years there were to be major uprisings, leading to major revolutions and the eventual overthrow of the Tsar and the old feudal system. In its own way, this play also represented something of a revolution, marking a change in style from the traditional, very formal style of earlier works and adopting a more realistic approach and writing not about heroes and heroines but instead about people; people whose lives are not marked by any great dramas but who have their own loves and hates, relationships and emotions. In fact, much of the action takes place offstage or in between scenes, and is seldom directly referred to by the cast, with Chekhov instead using a series of indirect references as though the events are not really things to be mentioned in public.

There are some good performances among the cast of eleven. Abigail Cruttenden as Irina gives us a strong interpretation of a fading star who is desperate to hang on to the limelight as long as she possibly can, with a fine collection of put-downs that she is not afraid to unleash on anyone she feels might be in any way threatening to overshadow her. Gyuri Sarossy is equally strong as her lover, the playwright Boris Trigorin, competently delivering what is often considered to be one of Chekhov’s greatest rôles. Alexander Cobb is Konstantin, Irina’s son and aspiring playwright, and performs with sensitivity, showing the frustrations life as a poor, unrecognised playwright and at the same time managing his relationship with his overbearing and egotistic mother. Of the main quartet, Pearl Chanda as Nina is a slight disappointment, delivering her dialogue in a somewhat odd, droning monotone with little inflection or emotion. It is unclear whether that is her interpretation, or the direction, but in either case it feels out of place among the natural delivery of the rest of the cast. These four are well supported by the remainder of the cast, all of whom deliver very believable performances.

The simple set by Laura Hopkins works well, complemented by the grey costume (also by Hopkins) and lighting by Guy Hoare, all combining to give a stark feel to the production.

This is an interesting, generally very well-performed piece, but the adaptation by John Donnelly, and by extension the direction (Blanche McIntyre), presents something of a difficulty. The design by Laura Hopkins is stark, monochrome and minimalist. Costumes are contemporary. The vast majority of the script is modern and colloquial; very modern in places with regular use of profanity, which adds to the up-to-date feel of the piece. We have all the trappings of a contemporary piece of theatre, and the basis for what could be a completely up-to-date take on a classic play. It is therefore somewhat incongruous then for characters to suddenly refer to things such as needing the horses for the carriage to go to town. “Can I change the words?” Nina asks, at one point, receiving the retort “No, because then it would be something else”. Donnelly’s script has changed the words, and is something else; it is a shame they were not changed just a little more, to complete the modern feel of the piece.

Runs until 22nd June 2013

Picture: Tristram Kenton

 

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