The Seagull completes the Royal Exchange's season of Chekhov's major plays alongside The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya.
The play is set in 1895 and explores the themes of unrequited love, dreams of fame and fortune, and the price that has to be paid for such desires. Madame Arkadina (Geraldine Alexander) is the famous actress facing the twilight of her career. Her son, Konstantin (Steven Robertson) is a deeply troubled young writer who fails to convince his family and friends that his work is of some worth. Trigorin (Colin Tierney) is a successful writer who, despite being Madame Arkadina's beau, finds himself falling in love with the young actress, Nina (Emma Lowndes).
Uncle Vanya at the Royal Exchange had depth, lots of emotion and its overall appeal remained universal. It also moved audiences who would not necessarily book to see Chekhov's work. Unfortunately, despite everyone's best efforts here, this play does not have the same effect. The production meanders along and many of the scenes could do with some urgent trimming. The characters all remain richly drawn but are presented on a very blank canvas. Liz Ascroft's wood chip strewn set does really give you a sense of the outside, but Bruno Poet's dim lighting cancels out the overall effect leaving the audience squinting.
Some of the performances seem to belong in different productions. Geraldine Alexander and Russell Dixon retain much of Chekhov's spirit with their beautiful performances. But Helen Atkinson Wood and Kellie Bright are both miscast and overplay the comedy aspects which often leads to embarrassing stilted laughter from the audience.
The main problem with this production is that it offers audiences nothing new. Greg Hersov's direction is very pedestrian and lacking an emotional core. I desperately wanted to feel something as I left the theatre but it left me feeling strangely unmoved.
However, if you are unfamiliar Chekov's work then there is something here for you, but I do not feel that this production does enough to attract a 'new' crowd to an 'old' piece of work.
- Glenn Meads