Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 2nd February, 2019
Chekhov done right is hugely demanding of any company attempting to stage one of his plays. But if the company does get it right, the play becomes less demanding on the audience and, in fact, becomes a pleasure. Here, director Andrew Brooks gets it right, eliciting nuanced and rounded performances from his cast, in this enjoyable adaptation by Christopher Hampton.
Jacob Williams shines as neurotic young writer Konstantin Gavrilovich Triplev – (the main problem I have with Chekhov is the names. Sometimes characters use the full name, a diminutive version, or a different name altogether, so it can take a while to sort out in your mind who they’re talking about!) Williams seems effortlessly naturalistic, balancing Kostia’s jaded outlook and insecurities with passion for the theatre. Konstantin’s descent into mental illness is expertly portrayed.
As his mother, Irina So-and-so and Such-and-such, Karen Leadbetter gives us the ego of the famous actress, her insensitivity and selfishness – all at Konstantin’s expense – in a measured performance that never goes over the top. John O’Neill is more down-to-earth as her lover, celebrated writer Trigorin; he really comes into his own when Trigorin describes the writer’s lot.
The object of Konstantin’s affections, the tragic Nina is played by Hannah Birkin, who is marvellous in the part. She even performs the pretentious twaddle of Konstantin’s play with conviction. This is a story of unrequited love – most of the characters are afflicted by it, setting off a chain reaction of events.
Dave Hill is endearing as ailing Uncle Pyotr, while the mighty Colin Simmonds perfectly inhabits his role as the family doctor. Amy Thompson is the picture of misery as the lovelorn Masha, and Papa Anoh Yentumi gives an assured performance as pipe-smoking Shamrayev.
The costumes by Pat Brown clearly depict the class structure of 1895 Russia, and the beautiful set by Keith Harris and Megan Kirwin, with its tree trunks and elegant furnishings, basks in the atmospheric lighting of Kristan Webb’s design. This is a classy production of a classic play, which brings out most of the humour inherent in the text with credible characterisations that keep on the right side of melodrama.
Eminently watchable and entertaining, this is one Chekhov you really ought to check out.
Dave Hill and Jacob Williams (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Amy Thompson, Birmingham, Chekhov, Colin Simmonds, Crescent Theatre, Dave Hill, Hannah Birkin, Jacob Williams, John O'Neill, Karen Leadbetter, Keith Harris, Kristan Webb, Megan Kirwin, Papa Anoh Yentumi, Pat Brown, review, The Seagull | posted in Review, Theatre Review
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 11th June, 2013
John Donnelly’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece (in my view) brings the Russian tragicomedy up-to-date and yet it feels thoroughly Chekhovian. The play is riddled with lines and themes from Hamlet – indeed, the first act involves a play-within-a-play, and it is from this device that the production takes its cue. The setting is somewhat abstract, sometimes impressionistic, sometimes expressionistic, but it wears its theatricality overtly. When characters, played naturalistically, deliver a soliloquy or an aside, they step over the edge of the bare black proscenium and address the audience directly. Our positioning beyond the fourth wall represents the lake to which they often allude. “There’s nobody out there,” mourns someone, plaintively.
But we are out there, hanging on every word of this punchy script. These Chekhovians swear and sing Burt Bacharach (or try to) but apart from these interpolations, all the tedium and banality of their everyday lives is there, squeezing the existential angst out of them in sudden outbursts.
With precious little to do, they philosophise about Life (naturally) but also about Theatre and Writing – these are a few of my favourite things! There are some very arch moments, playing on different levels. I found myself shrinking in my seat when they decried theatre critics.
Blanche McIntyre directs a strong company with an assured hand, marrying the content to the form – the only happy union of the piece! Beautifully lit by Guy Hoare, Laura Hopkins’s set reveals its versatility across the acts.
Abigail Cruttenden rules the roost as matriarch Irina, an actress who readily confesses she is never ‘off’. She wears her passions on her sleeve and has a declamatory tone to even the most mundane of utterances. She is the Gertrude figure whose affections have been drawn away from troubled (i.e. artistic) son Konstantin towards writer (i.e. tortured) Boris (Gyuri Sarossy). Konstantin (the excellent Alexander Cobb) shoots a seagull, then himself (but misses) before finding some measure of success as a writer. Konstantin loves Nina (Pearl Chanda – also excellent) who aspires to be an actor, inspired by Irina and in awe of Boris. Meanwhile, Masha (Jenny Rainsford) loves Konstantin but settles for marrying the pleasantly dull Semyon (Rudi Dharmalingham) in that doom-laden way that these characters do. I also particularly enjoyed Colin Haigh as the ailing Petr and David Beames as Yevgeny, but really the entire ensemble merits undiluted praise.
It’s a very entertaining version and also very rewarding. For all its meditations, it’s what the subtext provokes in the observer that makes it a great play. It is, as its own thesis claims, a moment of the extraordinary that keeps us going through the mundanity and longings of our own mortality. It’s a story of thwarted hopes and expectations, false alarms and anguish. It is also very funny.
Emotional seesaw. Pearl Chanda and Abigail Cruttenden
1 Comment | tags: Abigail Cruttenden, Alexander Cobb, Anton Chekhov, Blanche McIntyre, Colin Haigh, David Beames, Derby Theatre, Guy Hoare, Gyuri Sarossy, Jenny Rainsford, John Connelly, Laura Hopkins, Pearl Chanda, review, Rudi Dharmalingam, The Seagull | posted in Theatre Review