Love it or loathe it, and I loved it, I guarantee that you will never have seen a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull like Jamie Lloyd’s, which has taken up residence at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.
He sets it in a wooden box, with no exits or entrances, forcing the cast to enter through the theatre and clamber onto the stage. Everyone is present, sitting on green plastic chairs nearly all the time, heightening the intensity of the play by their total concentration. Dialogue is spoken at normal voice level rather than being declaimed so as to reach the gallery, each actor having a radio microphone so that even the quietest utterance is crystal clear, making for a very intimate production which seductively draws us in.
In addition, Lloyd opts for Anya Reiss’ adaptation of the play, which sets it firmly in the twenty-first century, as well as convincing us that The Seagull is a comedy, as Chekhov intended, even if tragedy is always just around the corner.
The ‘Seagull’ herself, ingenue Nina, is given a well-nigh perfect portrayal by Emilia Clarke – we feel her pain when she returns after failing to become successful as an actor, as well as her total exhaustion. Konstantin, a young ‘symbolist’ playwright who worships her, is played by Daniel Monks, giving little away but succeeding in gradually building a totally believable role with which we empathise.
His mother, successful actor Arkadina (Indira Varma) commands the stage whenever she wishes and fawns suitably over middle-brow story writer Trigorin, one of the playwright’s greatest male roles. He is portrayed by Tom Rhys Harris, and it is easy to see why both Arkadina and Nina would fall for him – even if tragically.
As always, Chekhov peoples his play with a variety of other ‘characters’ such as Sorin, Arkadina’s brother, a superbly understated performance by Robert Glenister, and Dom, a doctor, continually trying to give away paracetamol as the cure for every illness, by Gerald Kid. The local teacher, Medvedenko, is lazily played by Mika Onyx Johnson and the ever-grumpy Shamrayev by Jason Barnett, revelling in every comic moment the author (and Reiss) give him; but in truth, there is not a weak member of this ensemble cast.
Soutra Gilmour designed the unusual wooden box of a set, and Jackie Shemesh had the unenviable task of trying to light it so that everyone could be seen, George Dennis is responsible for the effective music and sound.
Lloyd’s The Seagull is a most unusual interpretation, but it works, making the play feel more relevant than I can remember from previous productions as well as making each member of the audience feel that the cast is performing it, especially for them. Highly recommended – one of the great productions of a great play.
Review by John Groves
A young woman is desperate for fame and a way out. A young man is pining after the woman of his dreams. A successful writer longs for a sense of achievement. An actress wants to fight the changing of the times. In an isolated home in the countryside where dreams are in tatters, hopes dashed, hearts broken and there is nowhere left to turn, the only option is to turn on each other.
Read our interview with Jason Barnett – The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre
Harold Pinter Theatre
Booking to 10th September 2022