REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged.

THE SEAGULL

By: Nov. 28, 2023
REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged.
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Saturday 25th November 2023, 7:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre

Imara Savage (Director) brings Andrew Upton’s fifth Chekov play adaptation to the stage with a new imagining of THE SEAGULL.  Given an Australian voice and setting, the late 19th century Russian work sits uneasily as a long piece of theatre that struggles to find a purpose and connection.

REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged. The first of Chekhov’s four major plays, THE SEAGULL has gained popularity due to its expression of misplaced love leading to ‘waste’ of life, narcissism, and the challenge of finding the purpose of their lives.  Upton takes the work from a country estate outside of Russia and shifts it to a lakeside retreat somewhere in Australia, 3 hours out of a major city, probably Sydney.  The property, occupied by the aging Peter (Sean O’Shea) and his nephew Constantine (Harry Greenwood), and run by farm manager Shamrayev (Michael Denkha) and his wife Polly (Brigid Zengeni), is more akin to a beach shack than a country estate but apparently has space for bee hives, orchards and alpacas based on David Fleischer’s set design for Act Three.  As with Chekhov’s original, the story starts with Constantine staging a new experimental theatre piece on a lakeside stage.  The object of his desire, neighbor Nina (Mabel Li) is his leading lady and sole performer though Nina does not return the affection beyond seeing the role as a steppingstone to achieving her desire to be a great actress like Constantine’s mother Irina who is making her annual holiday trip to the lake house with her current toy-boy, novelist Boris (Toby Schmitz). While Upton ensures that the tangled web of lust and desire, generally all unreciprocated, is clear, the work in terms of both script and direction fails to make most of the characters in any way likable leaving a work that lags as it looks for a purpose. 

REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged. While Upton aims to give the characters a contemporary voice with some good comic lines, Savage has allowed much of the dialogue to be delivered with a tone that disconnects the performer from their character, loosing the emotional connection.  Initially Megan Wilding gives the moody Masha a brilliant comic timing and cutting delivery as she dismisses schoolteacher Simon’s advances but in later scenes with longer monologues lack a trust in her comic timing and ability to express a biting attitude.  Young aspiring actress Nina is initially given a wide-eyed naivety but as she sets her sights on Boris the role is overplayed, loosing a natural voice in favor of an overtrained  drama-school sound.  As the aging actress striving to prove she’s still relevant by keeping the focus on herself at the detriment of her relationship with everyone around her, particularly her son, Sigrid Thornton fails to provide any honesty or truth to her expression of Irina, missing the opportunity to capture the light and shade of the character, instead making her thoroughly unlikable.

REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged. The saving graces of the production that drags out over close to three hours come from Harry Greenwood, Toby Schmitz and Sean O’Shea.  Greenwood gives the troubled playwright an honesty and vulnerability, garnering sympathy amongst the erratic behavior as he ensures it is clear that the young man is seeking to find a his place in a world where he’s largely been ignored in the shadow of a mother more interested in her own success than her son.  Schmitz delivers a brilliant rambling monologue where Boris admits he feels like a fraud and imposter but cannot stop lapping up the attention and accolades even when he suspects the support is more sympathy than celebration of success.  He ensures that Boris is the classic older male seduced by the idea of a young fan falling for him so he becomes the letch willing to lead Nina on so he destroys any hope Constantine has of forming a relationship with either his mother or his muse.  The best performance of the night comes from Sean O’Shea as he ensures that he is consistently giving an honest and realistic performance.  He lands the comedy and pathos of the piece perfectly, giving Peter a purpose while ensuring that it is clear he understands the character and can connect with the troubled man.

REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged. Aside from the strong performers detailed above, THE SEAGULL lands short of capturing attention and engagement and Constantine’s line about the “theatre in the city is classics of the white old farts being reinvigorated” that don’t give anything new sadly rings true.  Art should entertain and engage and should not require too much strain to find a purpose but the lack of connection between the bulk of the performers and the piece makes this work that could also do with shortening a struggle. 

https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2023/the-seagull

Photos: Prudence Upton

REVIEW: Andrew Upton's Adaptation Of Anton Chekov's THE SEAGULL For Contemporary Australia Is Challenged.



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