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BWW Reviews: THE SEAGULL, New Wimbledon Studio, April 9 2013

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The Black Coffee Theatre Company asks you to leave your preconceptions at the door, as they place one of Chekhov's most known dramas in the roaring twenties. As bizarre as the idea of flapper Masha might seem, try not to be sceptical - this innovative adaptation is highly intelligent in its approach and ideas, and contains some outstanding performances.

The first of Anton Chekhov's major successes, The Seagull largely tells of two actresses and two writers - and of their various professional and romantic outgoings and disappointments. The story itself is quite simple, but uses each of theintricately sculpted characters to establish humanly complex relationships and to show the mundane confusions and trials of everyday life. Luke Adamson, who co-founded Black Coffee Theatre, as well as playing Konstantin in this production, adapted various scripts (including, impressively, some in Russian) to suit BCT's philosophy to use a small ensemble of actors to create short "shots" of theatre.

"We feel that art feeds life," says Adamson, "and in an age where society seems to have so little time, we want to slow people down and inject some fun and meaning into an increasingly hostile world." These are beautiful, though challenging sentiments, which Black Coffee Theatre really seem on the way to achieving. Their work is tremendously accessible; Adamson strikes an excellent balance between presenting Chekhov's multi-dimensional, articulate characters and striking some of the repetitive symbolism that a contemporary audience just doesn't need to be painted quite so strongly. To voice a potentially sacrilegious thought, contemporary writing techniques are perhaps more subtle. This ninety-minute cut still utilises The Seagull's masterful dramatic devices and really retains all the sense of the original, but with a more naturalistic feel throughout.

This production is superbly acted, with suitably hilarious and devastating direction by Jonathan Holby, whose subtle work is in no way indicative of his novice status. While this was one of those shows where there is genuinely something interesting happening anywhere you look onstage, Maria Crocker was quietly, painfully compelling as Masha. Adamson's Konstantine was original, believable and highly sensitive and Nina Bright gave the challenging role of Nina her own evocative stamp. Within the rest of the cast there are too many excellent performances to mention by name - this is a very strong ensemble.

Music was also used extremely effectively throughout. Recently some dramas have utilised music which seemed somewhat at odds with the script's realism, but Daniel Bottomley and Ben Bland's compositions were not only far more stylistically appropriate, but were integrated subtly into the action.

All in all, this company is literally one to watch - and representative of something British theatre is sadly seeing less of now. Here is truly interesting, thought-provoking regional theatre (having started at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Seagull is now touring - see dates and venues listed below), offering a wider audience a chance to enJoy Smaller-scale, intimate theatre. Such theatre also offers young actors a chance to make their own work and to further develop their craft.

However, do not misunderstand me; these "fringe" actors are highly accomplished already. Black Coffee Theatre Company's truly heartfelt production seems to be far more telling of Chekhov's characters and their ideas than a lavish West End production might.

The Seagull tours as follows:
April 9 - Selby Town Hall, Selby
April 13 - The Henry Travers Studio, The Maltings, Berwick-Upon-Tweed
April 15 and 16 - Newcastle Theatre Royal Studio
April 20 - Barnfield Theatre, Exeter
April 21 - The Brewery Theatre, The Tobacco Factory, Bristol


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