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Review of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at Theatro Technis

The SeagullIt turns out that not every production from the Acting Gymnasium brings a script from a previous generation and re-sets it in early twenty-first century Camden. The accompanying music in this version of The Seagull was more Classic FM than BBC Radio 1. There have been some noticeable cuts to the script – which, for a first-timer to this Russian classic play, might make the storyline a tad more difficult to follow: as a supermarket chain used to say, every little helps. This is, however, a factor overridden by a slick and steadily-paced production, delivered clearly and passionately.

The costumes may not have been, technically, entirely commensurate with late nineteenth-century Russian wardrobes, but the setting remains the country estate of Sorin (Yasir Senna), a former government official, now retired and in declining health. Nonetheless, the setting allows for an immediate understanding of the script in its context: a reference to ‘modern theatre’, for instance, naturally means whatever stood for ‘modern’ for Chekhov’s generation, rather than the coarse language and almost complete lack of subtlety in shows such as Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and The Book of Mormon.

On the other hand, the interjections from characters who comprise a theatre audience (in a play within the play, so to speak) as Nina (Nina Schlautmann) performs a play by Konstantin (a highly engaging Max Easton) are not far removed from the stories heard today about audience behaviour ruining performances, with one significant caveat: the characters here are talking about the play within the play rather than being completely disengaged with it. They did better than me; I found Nina’s monologue quite insufferable and too melodramatic. I assume this was Chekhov’s intention, or at least a deliberate intention of the production, and in this regard, the scene is paradoxically successful!

There are plenty of moments of humour to savour, some more overt than others. In the freely available translation of the play on Project Gutenberg, Medvedenko (Andre Pinto) is given some acknowledgement by others, with stage directions such as, “His mother-in-law gives him her hand unwillingly”. In this version, while the said mother-in-law, Polina (Zivile Stones) wishes him good riddance; nobody else even notices him go, not even his wife, Masha (Melissa Lam), slightly more subdued that would be reasonably expected in a production of The Seagull. The community doctor, Dorn (McQueen Francis) has unwanted admirers, most notably Polina. There is additional wit – or perhaps cruelty – in Medvedenko craving attention but not receiving it, and Dorn wishing people were not so clingy towards him. With Masha actually besotted with Konstantin and Trigorin (Jarred Denner) desiring Nina (and so on, and so forth), it is, as ever, not so much a love triangle as a love spaghetti junction.

It has been commented on in certain quarters that this repertory company would do better to express emotion a little more. They come up trumps here – the heated exchange between Arkadina (Leena Makoff) and her son Konstantin is palpably tense, while Dorn’s deep and philosophical thoughts, spoken out loud, prove a welcoming and wise contrast to the waterworks of the likes of Konstantin and Masha.

A bittersweet and familiar play is made fresh by a truly international company. The soliloquies are a delight to listen to, and a running time of just under two hours for a four-act play ensures not a single moment is superfluous. A tight and exquisite production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Seagull
by Anton Chekhov
Adapted and directed by Gavin McAlinden
At a makeshift theatre beside a lake, Konstantin’s play is performed, changing the lives of all involved forever.

Chekhov’s early tragi-comic play is a masterful meditation on the dilemma of the artist, and marked the beginning of the modern stage.

Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Rd, NW1 1TT.

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