Writer: Pan Pan Theatre
Director: Gavin Quinn (after Anton Chekov)
Reviewer: Megan W. Minogue
It doesn’t get much more metatheatrical than this. It also doesn’t get much more fun: if theatre is meant to be a good night out, then The Seagull and Other Birds definitely fulfils the brief. The show opens with a participatory musical number, The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”, and the audience participation and enjoyment don’t end there. We always feel connected to the performance, through both direct participation and active breaking of the 4th wall, and this is where The Seagull and Other Birds truly excels.
Like much of their other work, Pan Pan takes Chekov’s The Seagull as a starting point and makes something completely innovative and new. We still have the respected writer (Andrew Bennett), the young ingénue (Samantha Pearl), an actress past her prime (Gina Moxley), and her playwright son (Richard Walsh) who is trying a bit too hard. Pan Pan also adds the darkly funny Una McKevitt and Daniel Reardon, who looks surprisingly good in a tutu, into the mix. The body is centre stage for the entire performance, through both the form-fitting leotards costuming the entire cast, multiple dance numbers, and intricate actor-on-actor interactions. The set is simplistic and an ordinary performance space: the director and other members of the production team are visible throughout, dressed like the rest of the cast in leotards and actively participating in some scenes as well.
The performance is divided into several different ‘scenes’, some of which depict the internal struggles in a theatre group, Americanitis, and others which have Americanitis performing their own scenes and derivative scenes from such varied sources as Girls and hip-hop music. The tall and lanky Richard Walsh is surprisingly convincing as Lena Dunham’s Hannah, along with Una McKevitt as Adam Driver’s Adam, and Andrew Bennett is not too shabby in his recitation of gangsta rap. Particularly striking is Samantha Pearl: her movements are exquisite – she clearly stands above the rest in the dance numbers – and her overall performance is mesmerizing. Her desire for a play to contain love leaves her seeking affection from both writers, Richard and Andrew, with rather tragic results. Her naivety and idealism is contrasted by McKevitt’s more sceptical and realistic expectations, and this cynicism comes through delightfully in her performance.
The Seagull and Other Birds plays with notions of the dramatic, and challenges our expectations of performance. Though the company announces at the outset that there is no plot, they also want us to trust them, at least in matters of fire safety, because they are an award-winning theatre company (they even pass around some of their awards for our inspection). And we do. We are happy to go along for the ride, and Pan Pan does not disappoint. The show is a strong addition to the Dublin Theatre Festival, and is well worth attending.
Photo courtesy of Dublin Theatre Festival. Runs until 5th October 2014