‘The Seagull’

‘The Seagull’ was written in 1896 by a Russian physician and author, Anton Chekhov. This bright new adaptation is by Hilary Bell.  Although Chekhov is famous for his 14 plays, he actually wrote hundreds of short stories and one novel, all before his premature death in 1904, aged only 44 yrs.

This 2-hour play is showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre, in the State Theatre Centre of WA, Northbridge each evening at 7.30 until 31st August. There are some matinees.

It is a visually beautiful set. The setting is about 1900 in Russia, on a country estate. A rustic stage, complete with muslin curtains, has been erected on the shore of the lake. The wings have flats of painted, stretched muslin with the background lake scene continued onto them. Set design and immaculately tailored costumes (dressmaker, Jennifer Edwards) are by Fiona Bruce. Combined with the warm glow of the oil lamp toned lighting and the very clever, and fully convincing, moon rising over the lake complete with reflections on the water (Jon Buswell), the scene was stunning.

       For his annual holiday, Konstantin (Luke McMahon) is staying at the family’s country estate with his talented actress, mother, Arkadina (Greta Scacchi). In an attempt to follow the family into the theatre, Konstantin has written a play, a very strange and boring play. To impress his relations, he decides to have a neighbour’s daughter, Nina (Leila George) perform it on the rustic stage near the lake. The play is so bad that even his mother tells him it is awful, his only supporter being the local GP, Dr Dorn (Andrew McFarlane).

       An elderly relative, Sorin (Michael Loney) is brought along for a holiday. He hates it, ‘not nearly as exciting as the city’. Every year the estate manager, Shamrayev (Greg McNeill) and his wife, Polina (Sarah McNeill) have had to put up with a great deal of extra work, and so Shamrayev makes yet another unsuccessful annual stance for more money, or he will walk out. Shamrayev and Polina have daughter, a pessimistic and miserable wench, Masha (Rebecca Davis); but despite this apparent lack of happiness or affection, the local schoolteacher, Medvedenko (Adam Booth) craves for her.

      When a celebrated writer, Trigorin (Ben Mortley) arrives at the estate, he and Nina spend happy hours chatting, as a result, her love for Konstantin wanes – especially after his weird gift of a dead seagull.

      Will the many tortuous love affairs become resolved?

Expecting the heavy, richly written style of the Russian classic texts, I was surprised at Hilary Bell’s adaptation with much lighter contemporary dialogue. The play starts in a very light vein, this gave a warm glow to the opening Act, however after the interval, the genre seemed to swing back to the original, traditional style. Many of the audience really enjoyed this mixed combination; however, some of the purists were a little saddened by the overall result.

The acting was wonderful, with WA’s Greta Scacchi showing why she has been so admired over the years. Her real-life daughter, Leila George, effervesced with feeling, and I can see her following Greta to fame.

Director Kate Cherry and her talented assistant, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, have selected an excellent well-proven cast, who gave a great deal of depth their characters. In addition to the leads, Davis was hilarious as the temperamental maid and Loney delightful as the senile, hypochondriacal relative.

Ash Gibson Greig can always be relied upon to give a quality musical backing and soundscape (impressive storm scene).

Young teenagers and the old can appreciate this easy-going play equally.

A very good, light-hearted night at the theatre. Chekhov would have been proud.