Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley’s (who also
directs) new translation of Chekhov’s Seagull brings an
immediacy and a vibrancy to the play that does it a world of good. The
intertwining love affairs and family squabbles that Chekhov draws for us are
set out clearly in this version, allowing us to see deeper into these
relationships and the flawed characters that live them.
Young Konstantin (Al Weaver) wants not only to be a writer,
but to usher in a new style of writing with his work, sweeping away the old as
he goes. Fuelled partly by jealousy and paranoia and partly by a genuine
feeling of disillusionment with what has come before, Konstantin sets up his
work in antipathy to the cultural world represented by his actress mother,
Arkadina (Geraldine James) and her younger lover, the acclaimed writer Trigorin (Matt Wilkinson).
Konstantin’s muse is Nina (Yolanda Kettle), a naïve and
child-like beauty on the cusp of womanhood who lives across the lake from the
family’s summer house. It is Nina’s passionate response to his writing that
deepens Konstantin’s devotion to her, but this same passion is what leads to
the young man’s eventual downfall, as Nina proves herself all too susceptible to the
charms of artistry in others too.
Blatchley’s production, beautifully designed and lit by Dora
Schweitzer and Neill Brinkworth respectively, places a strong emphasis on the
tensions between creative and emotional fulfilment, between the self-love of the talented and the selflessness required for truly satisfying relationships. Chekhov's characters are either
overly consumed by their art to the point that they have lost sight of everything
else, or regretful of the fact that their existences have been contented but banal. The act of artistic creation is rigorously examined and found wanting: putting life into words, or acting those words on a stage, is not the same as living.
There is barely a sympathetic figure in the play. Only
Roger Lloyd Pack’s eminently reasonable Dorn is likeable throughout, in pointed contrast to the hysterics engaged in
by the rest of the sorry lot. The cast are mostly persuasive in their despair,
but a little more restraint would have served the play better, particularly in
the second half, when the nuances of the characters’ disappointments risk being
washed away in a neverending flood of tears.