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June 19, 2011 8:18 pm

Seagull, Arcola Theatre, London

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More than any other of Chekhov’s major dramas, The Seagull is an all-comers’ self-pity contest. The renowned actress Arkadina imagines herself penniless, her brother Sorin bemoans a life spent doing nothing, Medvedenko the teacher is constantly pricing up items, estate manager Shamraev has no spare horses to offer anyone, and Masha (there’s always a Masha, and she’s never the life and soul of the party) famously wears black because, as the opening exchange of this new translation has it: “I’m mourning my life.”

Add to all that the assortment of life and art crises suffered by Trigorin, Konstantin and Nina and the fact that, in doctor Dorn’s sardonic words, “Everyone’s in love with everyone,” and it’s amazing that even the Russian master could make us feel a moment’s sympathy for any of them. Yet we do, and Joseph Blatchley’s production finds generous laughter almost entirely devoid of mockery.

 
seagull
 Roger Lloyd Pack plays Dorn

Blatchley’s casting is not only astute but yet another measure of the Arcola’s stature. Geraldine James’s Arkadina enjoys being the centre of attention but does not bask ostentatiously in it, and Roger Lloyd Pack is a natural match for Dorn’s deadpan remarks. As Arkadina’s son Konstantin, hard done by but principally too intellectual for his own good, Al Weaver’s sensitive, articulate performance makes him one to watch.

Yolanda Kettle makes a noteworthy debut as Nina, transforming from bright-eyed ingénue of the earlier acts to the sunken-eyed, despairing shell of the fourth. Matt Wilkinson’s Trigorin is not the smooth philanderer of other interpretations, but a man as ridiculously wrapped up in his own discontents as any of his fellows; his exploitation of the awestruck Nina is opportunistic rather than predatory.

Dora Schweitzer’s set is founded on a stage laid with grass sods. Through the drapes I could see grass cuttings offstage, possibly to augment the theatrical effect like the sulphur Konstantin insists be burnt in his own drama during the first act.

I was in a minority in finding Helena Kaut-Howson’s Uncle Vanya at this address a few months ago to be a misfire; Blatchley, however, like Konstantin, takes aim at the same target a second time and hits it squarely.

 

 


arcolatheatre.com

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