Were critics in a flap over The Seagull?
Emilia Clarke stars in the new production
Its opening night was mere days away when cancelled by the pandemic back in 2020, so it feels very exciting to finally see The Seagull hit the West End stage. But what did the critics think? We round up the consensus:
Mickey Jo Boucher, WhatsOnStage
"As with most of Chekhov's plays, The Seagull explores themes of isolation, anguish, and devastatingly unrequited love. His work pairs best with a glass of whisky and a helping of existential despair. The last time one of the celebrated Russian playwright's works was at this theatre (Uncle Vanya in 2020) it boasted a stunningly realistic set, while this comparatively sparse design from director Jamie Lloyd's longtime collaborator Soutra Gilmour is a minimalistic one which closely resembles an enormous chipboard version of an IKEA Kallax."
"Clarke, who makes her West End theatrical debut with this production, shimmers with modest adoration throughout, her expressive brow often upturned with a determined self-deprecation."
Sam Marlowe, i News
"Tumbling woozily into infatuation, Clarke is dazzlingly luminous: each tiny tenderness Rhys Harries utters makes her eyes bigger and hungrier, and her face glow brighter, as if he's turning up a dimmer switch.
"The fractured exchanges are faintly Sally Rooneyish as connections are made and missed, and the atmosphere is one of sickly lethargy, in which failed romances and bitter resentments fester. Jason Barnett smoulders with mutinous frustration as estate manager Shamrayev, with Sophie Wu tragi-comic as his depressive emo daughter Masha, and Robert Glenister stifling in quiet, self-annihilating futility as Arkadina's ageing, ailing brother Sorin."
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
"Clarke is the biggest commercial star and convinces opposite Tom Rhys Harries's Adonis-like Trigorin but the larger performance comes from Indira Varma as the highly strung mother, who seems the most alive character on stage. Daniel Monks' Konstantin emanates a morose sleepiness and there is a charismatic supporting turn from Robert Glenister but Sorin feels like too small a part for him – we wish for more and more.
"Meanwhile, the comic roles are uniformly excellent: Jason Barnett's estate manager, Shamrayev, simmers with anger at these indolent townies. Sophie Wu's show-stealing Masha – one of several characters contending with Chekhov's typically tortuous pangs of unrequited love – brings emo-teen darkness to the tragicomedy with perfect, deadpan deliveries."
Andzrej Lukowski, Time Out
"The ostensibly subdued performances are all gripping and often startlingly original. Monks's mumbling Konstantin has a powerfully unsympathetic quality - humourless, arrogant, even misogynistic as he quietly drips poison over much everyone on the island. He's genuinely chilling, a borderline incel, not just frustrated and insecure.
"Rhys Harries's Trigorin is almost as quiet in terms of decibels, but has none of Konstantin's certainty – he's shy and hesitant, confused by his success and career rather. No tortured artiste, he's enormously likeable. And Sophie Wu is wryly amusing as a depressed goth Masha, seething with a genuine hatred for her suitor Medvedenko (Mika Onyx Johnson), a tedious bore who wins our heart as he progressively breaks down over how nastily she treats him."
Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
"The show's lighting, by Jackie Shemesh, packs plenty of variation into a deceptively simple design. Pale washes echo subtle shifts in the conversational dynamics playing out on stage, giving us fleeting hints of kindling warmth or long, chilly stretches filled with regrets and frosty grey light.
"Two brutally loud gunshots are accompanied by equally explosive flashes, and in the play's final moments a growing spotlight gradually envelops Nina, an ambiguous signal either of hope, the relief of escape or all-annihilating loss."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Given Jodie Comer's recent tour de force here, it's a pity we can't see more of what Clarke is made of. She was imposing in Game of Thrones (as Daenerys Targaryen, lover of Jon Snow, mother of dragons etc), but here she's a wallflower, lots of cheerleader smiles, appreciative glances – directed at Tom Rhys Harries's dishy, gauche Trigorin – and wistful looks, nuzzlingly sharing a chair near the end with Daniel Monks's hushed, tender, irremediably unhappy Konstantin."
Clive Davis, The Times
"If Clarke acquits herself well — and Indira Varma is even more impressive as the chattering, self-absorbed actress Arkadina — Lloyd's radical vision tests your patience to the limit. After his glorious reinvention of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which James McAvoy gave one of the most astonishingly charismatic displays I've ever seen, this oddly static production, much of it delivered sotto voce, is closer to a radio play or a rehearsal."
"Varma holds our attention to the very end, while Robert Glenister and Gerald Kyd are eminently world-weary as Sorin and Dorn. The piece as a whole, though, proves as overwrought as Konstantin's aborted play."