Director: Annie Ryan
Writer: Anton Chekhov (revised by Annie Ryan and Michael West)
Reviewer: Liam Harrison
Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull explores the tension between established and experimental drama, the old and the new, embodying it in a conflict between parent and child. The first twist in Michael West and Annie Ryan’s new version is to change Konstantin to Constance (Jane McGrath) – instead of a mother and son fighting, it is now a mother and daughter.
Constance’s transformation visibly changes the trail of unrequited love that weaves its way through the play, with three women now at the fore. Constance loves Nina (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman), a beautiful novice actress, while Constance is adored by Masha (Imogen Doel), a depressed country girl dressed as an emo, reminding us just how timeless Chekhov’s lines are: “I wear black because I’m in mourning for my life”.
The gender switch does little to disturb the relationships of the unhappy lovers, apart from perhaps bringing under-represented voices to centre stage. Where it does make an impact, however, is in the relationship between daughter and mother. The latter, Arkadina, is a vain prima donna, played with a perfect note of conceitedness by Derbhle Crotty as she remains oblivious to the emotional wellbeing of her daughter.
Arkadina’s failures also cast her lover – the careless yet controlling writer Trigorin (Rory Keenan) – in a new light. His particularly masculine brand of passive manipulation is highlighted in this new production, and as the other men stand detached from the central plotting he cuts an isolated figure. The overall effect of the revised power dynamic has the same echoes of Hamlet and Oedipus as the original but with a less phallocentric focus.
The play’s country setting has the feel of a dysfunctional family holiday. As well as the moody teenagers there’s the raunchy uncle figure Dr Dorn (Louis Lovett) and Stephen Brennan’s jovial but sickly Sorin, who peppers each sentence pleasingly with ‘you know yourself.’ The cast show strength in depth without any member particularly standing out.
The stage’s backdrop is a wall of changing leaves which could be a Shakespearean enchanted forest, and the mismatched lovers resemble a Midsummer Night’s problem without the potion to fix it. The production expertly captures Chekhov’s transitions between comedy and tragedy, as earlier laughs are punctured by harsh truths which leave a sour yet sombre aftertaste. No more so than with Nina, a strikingly slight figure, more butterfly than seagull, too delicate for the coldness of the world. In a stirring performance from Hulme-Beaman, her early joys and aspirations are crushed by the overreach of her dreams, and most emphatically, by the capriciousness of others.
Runs until 16 October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival | Image: contributed