banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

THEATRE REVIEW: The Seagull by The Black Swan Theatre Company

| 13 August 2014 | Reply

THEATRE REVIEW: The Seagull by The Black Swan Theatre Company
Perth, 12 August 2014
Written by Anton Chekhov, Directed by Kate Cherry
Starring Greta Scacchi, Andrew McFarlane, Ben Mortley, Leila George, Michael Loney, Luke McMahon, Adam Booth, Rebecca Davis, Greg McNeill, Sarah McNeill
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

The Seagull Black Swan Theatre poster

The Seagull is widely considered the first of Anton Chekhov’s great works: a ‘comedy’ – as the author famously insisted to Stanislavski, the first Director to make a success of the work, at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1989 (two years after its diabolically disastrous debut.)

The famous Russian director spent months notarising the work, preparing sets and instructing his actors on every nuance, every pause, every gesture, to create his success – realising, perhaps, that the literary concept of ‘comedy’ at the time encompassed tragedy and farce in equal measure, rather than just the slapstick we think of when we hear the word today, well over a century later.

In a nutshell, Irina Arkadina (Greta Scacchi) is a famous actress dating the womanising author Trigorin (Ben Mortley). They return to her family estate and immediately run into conflict with her son Konstantin (Luke McMahon), an amateur writer who stages an existential play for them, starring the object of his obsession, Nina (Leila George). Konstantins play is juvenile, Arkadina mocks it and him mercilessly, and it transpires that Nina is infatuated with Trigorin anyway, and seems to have agreed to do the play only to come to his attention.

Love triangles abound – Medvendenko (Adam Booth) loves Masha (Rebecca Davis), but she is infatuated with Dr Dorn (Andrew McFarlane), vodka and her own misery. Arkadina loves only herself and others positive opinions of her. The elderly Sorin (Michael Loney), Arkadina’s brother, rues never marrying and being forced to retire, nearly broke, to the country, while his maid Polina (Sarah McNeill) fancies Dr Dorn (who also seems to have had an earlier affair with Arkadina), and her husband Shamrayev (Greg McNeill) spends his time reminiscing of his own glory days in the theatre.

The characters are all painted rather one dimensionally – one of Chekhov’s boldest moves, allowing them all their own delusions without any confusion, and here is the crux of the play: it’s about the false truths we convince ourselves of, the ways we deceive ourselves in matters of the heart and career and finance.

Whilst Nina flirts with him, Trigorin sees a dead seagull, shot earlier by Konstantin. He hurriedly pulls out his notebook and scribbles his idea for a story, telling her that it would be about “a young girl [who] lives all her life on the shore of a lake. She loves the lake, like a seagull, and she’s happy and free, like a seagull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom. Like this [dead] seagull.” It’s another bold move by Chekhov: he starts the play by inserting a play within his play, then goes on to basically tell the audience what his play is about in this one line, not to mention Trigorin telling Nina her outcome as well.

The second act sees the same ensemble gathering at the estate two years later, as Sorin fades towards death. We’ll leave the spoilers out of it here (even though, written 119 years ago, they’re not hard to find!), and just agree that each character has progressed – though not all to their liking, and several are forced to reflect on those lies they told themselves, and where it has led them.

The opportunity to play one dimensional characters whose words and actions are laced with such subtext and nuance must be enticing for any actor, and apparently The Seagull is a work which has had far more failures on the stage around the world than successes.

The Black Swan’s production hits and misses, with Scacchi hamming it up delightfully as the fading star desperate to keep her man and public opinion on side. Mortley’s Trigorin is well acted though perhaps too dignified and earnest for the role of such a sleazebag, while veteran McFarlane brings more cheeky confidence to the role of the good Dr Dorn.

The opening scene looking out across the lake is rendered impressively with a glorious set, but some of the later interior scenes seem too obvious, too one dimensional. Similarly the text seems updated to modern language (‘crap’ probably wasn’t in the original work), yet retains the setting in Russia and the currency of the time. It’s been a long time since anyone had to survive on 23 roubles a week.

In not updating the pace and relevance of the piece the company has lost an opportunity to connect with it’s audience, and consequently the performance remained detached and a bit slow, which is a shame as its message and characters resonate well even today.

The Seagull by The Black Swan Theatre Company runs at Perth’s State Theatre Centre until 31 August 2014


Category: Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad