Dalston’s an unlikely place for a dacha. But Joseph Blatchley’s fine new production of The Seagull at the Arcola Theatre takes us to the Russian countryside in a fresh and exciting way. Working with Charlotte Pyke and John Kerr on a new translation, Chekhov’s text seems funnier and more dramatic than ever.
The new adaptation takes the young writer Konstantin’s advice to heart, creating a script that “flows freely”; full of naturalism, with judicious use of modern idioms, it is clear and pacey. In a play so crowded with art and performance, the histrionics and famous Russian gloom take on a comic twist – yet when sincerity comes forth it packs a punch.
“So much anguish, everyone in love” announces Roger Lloyd Pack’s excellent Dr. Dorn: mostly to himself since Chekhov’s characters are solipsistic despite their self-awareness. Their selfishness is played for humour by the ensemble cast. In the star role of Arkadina, the successful actress who can’t stand the spotlight being on anyone else, Geraldine James is wonderfully intense.
Arkadina’s battles are tremendous set pieces, none more so than her confrontations with her son Konstantin. Al Weaver takes the part, funny as a petulant artist, and then deeply moving as he becomes a tortured young man.
Konstantin’s love for Nina, the girl next door who wants to become an actress, is so convincing it gives the whole production a romantic air. Yolanda Kettle, in a professional debut to be proud of, plays the role charmingly, making her character’s demise all the more moving.
Nina’s downfall comes via Trigorin, in Blatchley’s version a more than usually fascinating character. Played expertly by Matt Wilkinson, the startling accusation he has been “grooming” Nina adds considerable tension, making her seduction relevant to a modern audience, and preparing the ground for a traumatic conclusion that becomes as appropriately tormented as the good doctor predicted.
Until 16 July 2011
Photo by Simon Annand
Written 16 June 2011 for The London Magazine