Stripping back any recognisable aspect of Russian culture, Jamie Lloyd’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull presents the bare minimum of what theatre can be: a group of actors sitting onstage and delivering their lines as if at a table read.
Fans of Chekhov and Emilia Clarke will enjoy the show
We are dropped into the action from the get-go, starting in the middle of Chekhov’s play. Set in the Russian countryside, The Seagull is a dramatisation of the conflict of the past and present in the form of the dialectic between artistic differences and the changing nature of art. The lack of action and distraction in terms of set dressing, brings the themes of the play to the forefront, becoming the study of middle class life that Chekhov no doubt intended it to be. Like most of Chekhov’s works, the symbolism is more important than the actual plot. After a disastrous recital of Konstantin’s (Daniel Monks), his mother, Arkadina (Indira Varma), an aging actress, introduces an aspiring ingenue, Nina (Emilia Clarke) to a successful writer Trigorin (Tom Rhys Harries), intertwining conversations about the creation of art, its connection to fame and the nature of self-worth. All of the actors are onstage for the entirety of the play, cleverly reflecting the insular and isolated nature of the setting, where everybody knows everyone and their business.
Konstantin is an incredibly difficult character to portray, mainly due to the monotonous and nihilistic aspects of his character, something which Monks executes well. In his portrayal, Monks manages to create a character who is sympathetic rather than the annoying and overly-dramatic persona that Konstantin initially seems to possess. Clarke is the picture of an ingenue, her over-eagerness is endearing in the most tragic way possible. A subtle presence, Clarke brings a softness and innocence to the stage that we can only see in art, and so becomes a much needed respite from the real world. Harries’ interpretation of Trigorin is incredibly interesting, as there is a hint of self-deprecation in his performance which is refreshing, copared to the the boastful and more paternalistic persona that is normally associated with the character. Varma is a larger than life presence onstage. The contrast that she presents with other characters as well as her impressive range provides some well-needed respite from the monotony of the rest of the show.
Between the heat of the Harold Pinter Theatre and the bare production value of this adaptation, the show drags on in a seemingly never-ending way, only to be disturbed by the occasional audience members being rebuked by staff for taking photos. Fans of Chekhov and Emilia Clarke will enjoy the show, but perhaps The Seagull should be avoided if you aren't a fan and are wanting a fun night out on the West End.