For those who have never before experienced the work of Anton Chekhov, this collaboration between York Theatre Royal and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is certainly a good place to start. This successful production combines affecting drama with genuine humour to produce an entertaining night that was enjoyed by a receptive audience.
Chekhov’s tale of nineteenth-century intrigue is one of unrequited love, unfulfilled dreams and the search for meaning, both emotional and creative. Spanning four acts, the story unfolds between a middle-aged actress, her struggling playwright son and various current, former and aspiring lovers.
A unique collaboration that combines the talents of professional actors and graduating students of the Royal Scottish Academy, The Seagull works as a true ensemble piece, with each actor given their chance to shine. The professional actors bring much needed gravitas to their roles, especially Paul Shelley as Sorin, while the younger performers bring a certain vibrancy and freshness to the proceedings. Pierce Reid in particular scores well as the tortured Konstantin. It should be noted, however, that four of the roles are alternated between actors, so the cast differs slightly in each performance.
For this production, the Theatre Royal stage has been extended, swallowing up the first few rows of seats. While this seems barely necessary for the first three acts where the lakeside stage and country estate are minimally presented, the extra space proves its worth in the fourth where the parlour is opened up quite dramatically. Both the set and costumes, by Richard William Evans, successfully evoke the period and add much to the production.
While not quite a masterpiece, this production is certainly a success and offers newcomers to Chekhov an accessible route in. It also provides a ringing endorsement for this type of collaboration and it will be interesting to see where the careers of these talented graduates go from here.