The Notebook of Trigorin is a big surprise.
Tennessee Williams made no secret of his love for the work of Anton Chekhov, yet this
reworking of The Seagull from the end of Williams's life
remains barely known and rarely performed in this country. Back again
at his old stamping ground near Earls Court, director Phil
Willmott is giving the 30-year-old play its London première.
Chekhov's tale of two
generations of creative artists – the aspiring youngsters (Constantine and Nina) thwarted by an older generation of complacent achievers (Arkadina and
Trigorin) – struck such a chord with the young Williams that he
developed a lifelong obsession with the play and its characters. He
seems to have identified with several of them in turn, and here he
recalibrates them as mirrors to his own soul.
It is Trigorin, in this version a
self-doubting bisexual, who dominates (as the title would suggest),
along with an hysterically demanding Arkadina. The ripely enjoyable
performances of Stephen Billington and Carolyn Backhouse threaten to
burst the narrow seams of the Finborough. Only once, during a broad
comic interlude in act three, does their tone falter.
"A writer needs a bit of
both sexes in him", declares Trigorin to explain his taste for a bit of
stable-boy rough. Thus Chekhov's character has become pure Williams,
and when he mutters, "I''ve forgotten my youth", we find ourselves
wondering where he might have left him. This makes his interest in the
fragile Nina (played by Samara MacLaren, the spitting image of a young Sissy Spacek) a
little perplexing, because rough trade she certainly isn't. Still, it
takes all sorts.
wonders within the tiny space, abetted by the unfussy split-level
design of Kim Alwyn and Aimee Sajjan-Servaes, and the nine actors shine
under his direction. Richard Franklin is touching as Sorin, the voice
of reason, Andrea Hall and Daniel Norford make an attractively
mismatched couple as Masha and Medvedenko, and Lachele Carl is a
sympathetic Polina who displays less interest than Chekhov would have
expected in Morgan James's waspishly unprofessional Dr Dorn.
Alone among the
protagonists, Constantine (a nicely
tortured performance from Rob Heaps) survives The
Seagull pretty much intact; in other respects the play's
restive mood is Deep South all the
The one thing that
prevents The Notebook of Trigorin from being counted among the
playwright's greatest achievements is the absence of a baroque leading
character - a Brick or a Blanche - to transcend the Chekhovian ensemble
and suffer in extremis. But it's still a terrific