21 February 2005 WOS Rating: Compass Theatre Company, celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, founded its reputation on inventive small-cast stagings of Elizabethan classics and the bleaker edge of 20th century drama, most memorably in mid-1990s productions of such plays as Dr. Faustus and Endgame. Now closer to the mainstream, Neil Sissons, co-founder and director of all Compass’ productions, brings a thoughtful intelligence to more conventional productions.
His production of
may not be full of memorable performances, but his control of tone and mood comes adrift only in the ill-judged exaggeration of Masha’s drunkenness in Act three. Otherwise he has confidence in the power of Chekhov’s apparently artless naturalism, as does The Seagull Tom Stoppard whose 1997 version, used here, contains few of his usual verbal pyrotechnics.
, set on Sorin’s rundown estate, everyone lives on regrets: Medvedenko the schoolteacher is desperately poor, Trigorin the famous writer agonises over the greater reputation of Turgenev, the ageing Sorin laments a life not lived, and so on. The complications of love are less a triangle than a cat’s cradle. In the midst of all the impossible infatuations and hints of half-dead passions, the motor for the plot comes when Trigorin, lover of Sorin’s sister Arkadina, humiliates her son Konstantin, an aspiring writer, by capturing and destroying Nina, the actress whom he loves. The Seagull
Jane Gurnett’s Arkadina, less a grande dame of the theatre than usual, exposes the deeply unpleasant self-absorption beneath the character’s superficial charm: the wilful attention-seeking of her response to Konstantin’s play is all too convincing. The Gertrude-Hamlet parallels of her relationship with Konstantin ( Ben Hicks), never over-stated, are always potent. Emma Stansfield, as Nina, is more at home in her earlier scenes of unfettered and naïve enthusiasms than when seeking the tragic depths of Act four. Nicholas Asbury brings an easy intelligence to a rather low-key Trigorin, but the strength of the production lies in the ability of a well-balanced cast to create a coherent social group. All of them complain, “You’re so lucky” or “If you only knew…”, other people are all “tedious”, but the result is believable, moving and often amusing.
Liam Doona’s effective design keeps the lakeside before us throughout, while costume, switching from predominantly white to black, brings the chill of winter and the passage of time to Act four. Jason Taylor’s lighting, strong on sunset and shadow, complements the prevailing mood of a consistent production.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield)
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