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Review: THE SEAGULL, Harold Pinter Theatre

An unusual and quietly powerful production

The Seagull

The SeagullSome critics view The Seagull as a satirical look at the foolishness of humanity. Others, as a tragedy about eternally unhappy people. First performed in 1896, Chekhov's play about love and artistic endeavour now gets the Jamie Lloyd treatment in a unique production at the Harold Pinter theatre.

Konstantin is in love with Nina. Nina loves the idea of fame. Arkadina loves Trigorin. Trigorin loves Arkadina, but then falls for Nina. Unrequited love, artistic conflict, jealousy and unhappiness combine to produce one of Chekhov's best works. However, audiences will have never seen an adaptation like this before.

This is no period drama. As with his critically-acclaimed production of Cyrano De Bergerac, Lloyd has focused on simplicity; getting to the emotional core of the text without the distraction of any real set or props. However, while Cyrano pulsated with energy and physicality, The Seagull feels more like watching a rehearsal where the performers are zapped of energy. The use of microphones lends a stifling quiet to the production, so the whole atmosphere feels suffocating.

The excellent cast almost meditate on Anya Reiss' 2010 script, scattered with profanity and modern references to mobiles, blogs and jeeps.

As aspiring playwright Konstantin, Daniel Monks is desperate with unrequited love for Nina. Monks is brooding, obvious in his dislike at living in his mother's successful shadow, tormented by his need of approval and, ultimately, unable to live with his wounded ego. Unlike other Konstantins, Monks seems to hate being so unhappy and his final descension into despair at losing Nina is very moving.

Emilia Clarke, of Game Of Thrones fame, makes her West End debut as Nina. She recently said that she wasn't ready for her Broadway debut in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but she seems at ease on this stage. Her Nina is sweetly naïve and idealistic; drawn to Konstantin, but also infatuated by Trigorin, as she gazes into his eyes at the back of the stage. Clarke shows luminosity, but little depth until the second half, when we see glimpses of the regret and pain she holds within herself.

Tom Rhys Harries gives novelist Trigorin waves of doubt and a lack of self-belief, frustrated by what he sees as a youth lost to his work. Harris is suitably self-defeating and childish, but also draws comedy from his quiet delivery.

Many will come to see Clarke, but it is Indira Varma who is the standout performer, as domineering mother and actress Arkadina. Imperious, withering and the most lively of the cast, she shows vanity and self-satisfaction dripping into every line.

Sophie Wu is suitably depressed as a monotone emo Masha; Gerald Kyd is amusing as Dorn, delivering his lines in a deadpan fashion and Robert Glenister is wistful and quietly resigned as a sedated Sorin.

As with his critically-acclaimed production of Cyrano De Bergerac, Lloyd has focused on simplicity; getting to the emotional core of the text without the distraction of any real set or props. However, while Cyrano pulsated with energy and physicality, The Seagull feels more like watching a rehearsal where the performers are zapped of energy. The use of microphones lends a stifling quiet to the production, so the whole atmosphere feels suffocating. It is almost too much at points.

Also similar to Cyrano, Soutra Gilmore's starkly lit set is essentially a large plywood box containing the cast, which becomes partly deconstructed in the second half, as if to reveal the blackness waiting for them. There are no exits or entrances, so the whole cast stays on the stage throughout, sitting pensively on plastic chairs.

This sets an intriguing juxtaposition, as Chekhov wrote much of his action to occur offstage. Two crucial moments are indicated though a sudden burst in the lights and a loud noise, without any motion from the cast.

It is both unusual and laudable that a production like this can be seen on a West End stage. In typical Chekhov style, love means longing and dissatisfaction and unhappiness is identified as a natural human condition: you will leave feeling both drained and quietly moved.

The Seagull is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 10 September

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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