The Seagull

Adapted by Anya Reiss from the play by Anton Chekhov
The Jamie Lloyd Company
Harold Pinter Theatre

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The Cast of the Seagull Credit: Marc Brenner
The Cast of the Seagull Credit: Marc Brenner

This “21st-century retelling of Anton Chekhov’s tale of love and loneliness” will polarise audiences. Utilising the increasingly popular anti-dramatic style of theatre to strip a play to its bare bones, this is the kind of modernisation of a classic to which viewers will react strongly.

Since the production was strongly marketed towards the fan base that Emilia Clarke has built on the strength of her TV popularity in Game of Thrones, there is every chance that many of her groupies will have been totally baffled by a performance played out in sealed a chipboard box with no entrances or exits, though it is symbolically partially deconstructed after the interval. This has been created to represent a house on an island.

For the 2¼-hour duration, there is nothing to see apart from 10 barefooted actors clad in comfortable rehearsal gear sitting on or manoeuvring around as many green metal and plastic chairs while absorbing themselves in the zenith of static staging. The design concept makes it hard to identify who is who, while there is every chance that those unfamiliar with the play will struggle to follow the plot.

They may be helped by the use of slangy, contemporary vernacular language including un-Chekhovian lines such as, “you’d be in films no trouble”. Indeed, dumbing down often seems to be the primary ethos, combined with a determination to share the characters’ ennui with the audience during an evening that feels closer to a script reading or radio play.

This really is The Seagull in a minor key. When not taking part in the action, the actors sit around looking bored. Even when they are speaking, they frequently sound apathetic.

The modernisation goes beyond the language and imitations of naturalistic speech with deliberately inserted hesitations, since some of the standard Chekhovian names are also replaced.

In addition, there are strange directorial choices such as asking Sophie Wu playing Masha to behave and speak robotically and, for no apparent reason, introducing an inexplicable monologue about mobile phone contracts. At times, this can give the impression of an invention intended to satirise Chekhov rather than honour the great playwright, but that was probably not the intention.

Given the extreme limitations, there are some strong acting performances particularly from Indira Varma as Irina, Daniel Monks playing Konstantin and Ms Clarke taking the role of Nina.

Readers will already know from the foregoing paragraphs whether they appreciate this kind of stripped-down reworking of the classics. Anyone who is in doubt is best advised to steer well clear.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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