The Seagull

Anton Chekhov in a version by Anya Reiss
The Jamie Lloyd Company
Harold Pinter Theatre

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The cast of the Seagull Credit: Marc Brenner
Emilia Clarke as Nina Credit: Marc Brenner
Mika Onyx Johnson, Sophie Wu, Sara Powell, Gerald Kyd, Emilia Clarke & Jason Barnett Credit: Marc Brenner

Enter the gloomy world of Jamie Lloyd's whispering zombies known as a version of Chekhov’s The Seagull by Anya Reiss.

Even as you take your seats, you can see things are going to be grim. The almost bare chipboard box of a stage looks like a scene from an Expressionist painting. The body of a young man lies front of stage motionless as if dead. At the back of the stage, facing the audience, a young woman pensively crouches on a plastic chair. Over a period of thirty minutes, other cast members arrive, barefoot in loose-fitting clothes you might wear for a rehearsal, seating themselves facing the pensive woman.

The director has insisted they must generally whisper into their microphones, their faces showing as little animation as possible, their bodies avoiding gesture. Should it be necessary for an actor to move their body along with their chair from, say, a straight line to a group circle, they do so in slow motion, as if it doesn’t belong to the scene.

You might find yourself leaning in to hear the whispering hoards, among whom is the very depressed character Konstantin, (Daniel Monks) whose low soft tones convey a mood rather than words.

However, Indira Varma as Konstantin’s mother, the actor Irina Arkadina on holiday in the country with the man she refers to as “my sometime-lover”, the writer Trigorin (Tom Rhys Harries), somehow seems to have escaped the zombie edict. She gives a shaded performance, her voice clear, her gestures emphasising the meaning of her words.

Something of this rebellion from the zombie darkness is also there to a more limited extent in Emilia Clarke’s measured performance as the aspiring actor Nina.

The world of Jamie Lloyd's zombies is contemporary. Its characters worry about getting a phone signal and complain that “with inflation, it’s impossible to keep up”. In a dig at the weird politics of recent events, Shamrayev (Jason Barnett), an employee on the estate of Irina’s brother Sorin (Robert Glenister), angrily refers to the gathering of wealthier local people as “you fucking socialists.”

This is a stylish, distinctive production. However, its narrative arc abandons character complexity or development as it moves from one character’s despair to suicide in a context of unremitting gloom. It also refuses to let us see anything of the social context that frustrates their lives even as it inspires them at times to yearn for better.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna