This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews
Writer: Anton Chekhov
Adaptation: John Donnelly
Director: Blanche McIntyre
The Public Reviews Rating:
They are tired questions, too often asked in modern theatre: “How do you make classic plays relevant to a modern audience?” and “Is it even worthwhile?” Theatre company Headlong answer the two emphatically in this subtle but powerful re-imagining of arguably one of literature’s greatest works, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Chekhov was a master of the character study, a writer who sought to probe behind the facade, and director Blanche McIntyre and John Donnelly, writer of this new version, understand that fully. With a clarity of vision for the piece, they have eschewed the temptation, yielded to by many, who merely seek to shock in their radical re-imaginings of the classics, to skilfully present this spider’s web of unrequited relationships and ambitions and all the desires and disappointments therein, with a resonance that can easily be felt by a modern audience. The whole production is imbued with an assured calm and deftness of touch that allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the piece.
This production of the tale of fading actress Irina; her lover Boris, the middle-brow writer; her symbolist playwright son Konstantin, and star-struck, would-be actress Nina, also brings out the humour and bitterness in the melancholy, and exploits the all-too familiar and relatable conflicts that exist between men and women in love. John Donnelly’s sharply crafted, modern dialogue, elicits as many gasps of horror as recognition from the audience.
Played out on a simplistic set by Laura Hopkins, a plain plaster background and a thick plank of wood that transforms from jetty to see-saw to table, the pared-back production design concentrates the attention fully on the actors. To their credit, the cast in its entirety deliver compelling, well-judged performances with an emotional pull that, for much of the performance, had the audience utterly transfixed.
In particular, Alexander Kobb as Konstantin, delivers a performance of quiet power, perfectly illustrating the frustrations and misery of living in the shadow of his over-bearing, superficial and vain mother. As his mother Irina, Abigail Cruttenden, albeit rather young to be playing a fading diva, deftly turns on a knife-edge between spitting venom like a viper as she defends her fragile ego and oozing beguiling charm as she seeks to hang on to the affections of her adoring admirers.
This is an impeccably realised piece of theatre, due to the skill of writer Donnelly, director McIntyre and a stunningly accomplished cast and, of course, to the power of Chekhov’s original writing, this work still speaks to us with utter clarity down the centuries.
Runs until Sat 11th May