BWW Review: THE SEAGULL, Lion and Unicorn Theatre
The seagull gets it right between the eyes, shot, bagged and subsequently stuffed for the crime of what? Noisily asserting its freedom? Flying away whenever it chooses? Or (and I suspect this is the correct answer) it's Chekhov and we need a symbol, a gesture, a hinge between acts.
And it is Chekhov, if at times in this adaptation by Victor Sobchak, only just - I'll leave you to decide if including the line "It's really beginning to get on my tits" adds or subtracts to the experience.
Anyway, we're in a country house (of course) with people piling up the ennui (of course) and everyone is a bit pissed off about something (of course). On paper, it sounds like the late seagull might have got the best deal of the night, but this is the Russian master and, like a duck progressing across the lake on the estate, the serenity visible merely disguises furious goings-on beneath the surface.
As in A Little Night Music (and I like to think that I spotted a nod to Sondheim in the show), everyone is mismatched and miserable - some losing their minds.
Konstantin (Dominic Debartolo with a distracting accent that conjured the image of Frankie Dettori playing the Artful Dodger) writes avant-garde plays and pines for would-be actress Nina (doe-eyed Eleanor Hurrell), who is in love with another writer, older OCD-er Trigorin (regal Robert Anthony) who is sorta shacked up with Konstantin's successful actress mother Arkadina (MILFy Ciara Pounchett). Got all that?
There are other characters too - ill like Sorin, past-it but with a twinkle still in the eye like Dorn, sad like the doomed marriage of Masha and Medvedenko, or comic like rowdy workers Polina and Shamraev. They add picaresque detail as the centre fails to hold.
Since it's Chekhov, you're continually having your funny bone tickled, but you're afraid to laugh because people are really suffering out there. Is it comedy or tragedy? Are we laughing at them (their vanity, their self-regard, their foolishness) or laughing with them (the blunt home truths, the appalling compromises, the way life just bites you on the bum sometimes)?
The genius of the writing is to present this rich buffet of human weaknesses to us and demand that we select what to chew on this time, knowing that another viewing will allow us to pick out other tasty morsels to feed the mind.
That things don't end well is hardly the most egregious spoiler you'll read this week, but it hardly matters as they'll all be back on stage near you soon - you're never more than a few weeks away from another Chekhov in London.
This adaptation doesn't always catch the right tone, but the costumes are lovely to look at, and there are some nice performances to enjoy, particularly from the pouty pair, Eleanor Hurrell and Sadie Pepperrell (Masha). Most of all, it makes you think about life - the good, the bad and the ugly of it. And it you laugh while you do so - guiltily.