The Seagull is one of those classics you are meant to have seen. Well if you have, congratulations, and if you haven’t don’t worry, it’s not too late – either way just go and see this feisty version at Derby Theatre.
Director Blanche McIntyre and writer John Donnelly have fully understood that Chekhov probed behind the façade of his characters and their lives.
They haven’t just set out to shock us with their radical rethink of the classic and in doing so have created a play which will resonate with clarity to a 21st century audience.
Donnelly’s modern dialogue is full of expletives and may have resulted in gasps of horror but there was also laughter as it deftly delivered the shots of dry humour in Chekhov’s writing.
It is easy to forget how many laughs there are in such a dark comedy but the Derby audience enjoyed them.
Laura Hopkins’ minimalist set fits with McIntyre’s pared-back production and involves a plain plaster background used for delivering graffiti-style messages and a thick plank of wood that transforms from a jetty by the lake, to a sea-saw in the garden and finally a table.
This is a play about a dozen characters each so wrapped up in their own tragedies that they are not aware of each other’s pains and therefore inflict even worse betrayals on those they love. It’s a spider’s web of unrequited love and naked ambitions.
Konstantin, the son of a famous but fading actress Irina, is stuck in the country where he loves Nina, a wannabe actress. His dream is to be a playwright and he wants Nina as his leading lady. But sadly she has stars in her eyes, and falls for his mother’s lover a rival writer Boris.
As McIntyre has stripped back the staging to concentrate on the complexities of Chekhov’s characters the actors have to be top-notch and in this production they are just that.
Alexander Cobb as Konstantin captures the self-destructing writer with amazing energy and passion and Gyuri Sarossy as Boris is a convincingly remote and diffident writer-in-turmoil.
Pearl Chandra, as Nina and making her professional debut on stage, looks lovely and vulnerable and holds her own up against the terrific Abigail Cruttenden.
The experienced actor carries off Chekhov’s demanding role as the narcissistic Irina to perfection. Her on-stage dispute with her son was the most moving scene of the play.
The importance of the minor characters are not forgotten in this production and they are all superb – especially Jenny Rainsford who plays a striking Masha, the lovesick alcoholic.
Chekhov’s idea of the play within the play is reinforced by McIntyre who gets the cast to occasionally address the audience directly and by using workman cum stagehand Yakov, played by Eddie Eyre, to walk through nonchalantly at key moments to silently comment of the behaviour of his betters.
The Seagull is co-produced by Headlong and The Nuffield Southampton in association with Derby Theatre and can be seen there until June 22. For more details go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk