At a guess, the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick is not a must-go destination for students. Well, maybe directors Holly Marsden and Kathryn Salmond are the happy exception for their production of The Seagull gets as up close and personal as the centre’s webcams. And, critically, it does so unencumbered by tradition. No sentimental guano here.
Don’t get me wrong. This Seagull does the business: it’s intelligent, funny and sad – but it is also grounded and plain. Nina’s lofty ‘I am a seagull … No, that’s not it’ is lost on the wind (or cut) and her fraught state at the end of the play is all the more effective for being low-key.
Leave the real emoting to Konstantin (Douglas Clark), who does a fine, anguished job of it – just as he did as Alan Strang in Equus in March. It is not so much an uptight, stressy, performance as an upright one: earnest, principled, and lonely. Kostia stands apart as young and intense, a little weird, which goes down well with an EUTC audience. Chekhov is suitably amended. Where, back then, Kostia left university in his 3rd year ‘owing to circumstances’; now he did politics at uni. and got nowhere.
A seagull is still the emblem of the Moscow Arts Theatre and it is appealing to see how the play is up to date. There’s embattled youth with dreams and no prospects; parent(s) brittle with glee and anxiety and a professional class whose diplomas are looking tired and whose pensions are meagre. Town and country are miles apart and there is the constant engagement with what pays and what doesn’t. There’s even bingo and the fortunate winner who takes all, including the girl.
For Kostia, theatre just exists as nice vistas in abstracted space, which is a cheerless and absent place to be. It is more enlivening, by far, to stay in the company of others. There’s uncle Sorin, played with bleak glee by William Hughes; doctor Dorn, a gently sardonic Finlay McAfee; and the famous literary cad Trigorin, whom a soulful Jonathan Ip rescues from the censure that he probably deserves. However, it’s the women who really people the stage: Arkadina, Kostia’s impossible, self-absorbed mother, is strongly played by Elske Waite; Nina, lovely and brave, is a beautifully articulate Katya Morrison; and an unerring Sally Pendleton is the trapped but resolute Masha. I thought all three performers offered a junior master class in diction.
Of especial note in a solid, more than pleasing production was the spare quality of the costume and stage set. For once the doors opened and shut without shaking the ‘walls’ and a single fireplace, a table and a few chairs proved just enough.
We’re told that this is the first time that The Seagull has been put on at Bedlam. I’d be happy to see it or its relations fly back soon. Three Sisters, anyone?
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 8 October)
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