The Seagull takes place in a picturesque setting, nestled in the heart of Regent’s Park. A complex production, the story begins with a play within a play, forcing audiences to question what is real.
The start has a disorientating effect; the characters arrive on stage to watch a play but their initial conversations and movement results in an overcrowding of the stage. Nina’s monologue in Konstantin’s play is supposed to be intense and Sabrina Bartlett performs it well. Unfortunately in the first half, characters at times lack cohesion and muddle the flow of the story.
Matthew Tennyson blossoms and is sound in depicting his character Konstantin’s hurt towards his mother, his tantrums at not being taken seriously and in his demise. The nature of their turbulent relationship is demonstrated when Arakdina calls Konstantin ‘a nobody’ during a heated argument but immediately apologises when he starts to cry and calls him ‘poppet’. The pair tango with skill in their portrayal of a family being severed through narcissistic tendencies and both mother and son’s need for fame.
Janie Dee also gives a notable performance as Konstantin’s self-absorbed mother Irina Arkadina, spending her time reciting Shakespearean lines whilst her son yearns for her approval. One character in particular, the school teacher played by Colin Hoult seems on the surface to add comical effect but as the play draws to a close he appears to become the voice of reality whilst others disregard him cruelly. His wife, Masha neither pays him nor her offspring any attention and he is banished for not being as obsessed with the world of art. Masha’s portrayal is hindered with an unfortunately nasal tone throughout the performance. Her character might require such a disposition but the execution is lacking.
The most powerful characters may be the servants. The briefest but one of the strongest lines uttered by a servant at the end of the play is ‘You people.’, when Konstantin’s suicide is discovered. It causes the audience to realise the servants have been silently observing the other characters through the play and noting how self-obsessed most are. An especially poignant scene unfolds when a maid is on a ladder, dusting and the mirror reflects her duster suspended in the air whilst a private and zealous conversation unfolds below. The effect is somewhat hypnotic and the juxtaposition of the two scenes is an interesting one, leading to further examination of the chaotic lives of the artists.
Another slight bone of contention is the use of terms like ‘boring’ and ‘piss off’ in the play. Although understandably the dialogue needs to be updated for modern day audiences, it has the effect of lessening the quality of the play. It does seem out of place in a 19th century Russian play.
I enjoy Chekov and want to enjoy the play, feeling annoyed at not hailing the first half a success I am eager to see the second half. The first half feels flooded with characters; who do not always mesh well together. The second half redeems the show. It comes together with greater conviction; the characters feel as though they have purpose and collectively command the stage well. The story develops momentum and becomes absorbing. The play is strong; however, this new version does not do Chekov complete justice. 3/5
Review written by Prerna Prasad.
The Seagull is currently showing at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until Saturday 11th July. For more information on the production, visit here…