The Seagull ★★★★

The Seagull at Bridge House Theatre sees Luke Adamson’s adaptation bring out both the comedy and the tragedy of Chekhov’s famous drama.

The thing about Chekhov, if we are brutally honest, is there’s an enormous amount of moping and musing. About life and death. Existentialism is rarely bite-sized. The playwright himself even described it as “a great deal of conversation about literature, little action”. Way to sell it, Anton!

Considered to be the first of his four major plays, Chekhov’s The Seagull has been famously adapted to English many times. From Tennessee Williams’ 1981 take called The Notebook of Trigorin, through Regina Taylor’s African-American reframing Drowning Crow which ran on Broadway in 2004, to Aaron Posner’s marvellously-titled 2013 modern-day deconstruction Stupid Fucking Bird, it’s a play that dramatists have returned to in an effort to reinterpret and reinvent.

Bridge House Theatre’s artistic director Luke Adamson relocates the play to 1920’s England. The Bohemian aristocrats had been dubbed the ‘Bright Young Things’ and were lighting up London with a conflagration of fashion, arts and jazz. Away from this scene, the (still curiously Russian-named) characters of The Seagull have retreated to a country house for a promised performance of an avant-garde play. What transpires is a chain of events that will fracture the social circle gathered there forever and ultimately lead to tragedy. Spoiler alert: it’s not just the gull that dies.

What works brilliantly is Adamson’s smartly-abridged adaptation really brings out the humour of the first half of the play. From Sorin wonderfully describing themselves as an “alcoholic hobo” to Konstantine comedically puffing Sulphur with bellows for the play-within-a-play’s special effects, it plays almost like a mannered drawing-room comedy than a typical Chekhov. The Seagull‘s reputation as a tragedy stems from seminal Russian director Stanislavski’s 1898 production which heavily veered away from humour – Chekhov intended the play as a comedy – and into deeper, darker waters. Adamson’s production brilliantly dissipates the sonorous earnestness that can make the Russian playwright’s works heavy-going and reinstitutes the warmth and playfulness of the characters. The cast are no longer ciphers of existentialist arguments but rather flesh and blood characters who we can care about. This leaves an audience disarmed when the sucker punch of the final, inevitable tragedy strikes. 

What is admirable is that Bridge House Theatre’s production came to existence in response to the sudden closure of British drama college, ALRA. Final year students without a showcase were invited to make their professional debut in this production. The gender- and age-blind casting surprisingly works to the play’s benefit where we no longer look at Nina or Masha’s youth or Sorin or Arkadina’s age other than what is in the script. It lets the core of the character shine through.

And there are some outstanding performances. Jordan Lewis‘ Konstantine anchors the whole production. His playing of the part of a writer, struggling to find his voice in the shadow of his celebrated actress-mother, draws huge sympathy. Like his self-inflicted head wound, we realise over the course of the drama, he is damaged beyond repair. 

Lewis forms a compelling pairing with Annabelle Bailey‘s Nina as the two soulmates who epitomise the unrequited love, missed opportunities and misplaced dreams of The Seagull. From an awkward, sweet but struggling would-be actress at the makeshift theatre on the country estate at the start to the utterly broken figure we see at the end, Bailey delivers a dark, under-the-radar performance that is truly evocative.

Alice Gibson is wonderfully quirky and endearing as Medvedenko. Leila Wetton offers an engaging coke-sniffing Masha suggesting character undercurrents beyond the script. Neve McCormick impresses in the lesser role of Polina. The Recs must praise the outstanding comedic performance of Anna Cameron-Mowat as Sorin. She is the kind of actor who, without pulling focus from other actors, you wait for their next line. Smart, funny bones are like gold dust in theatre – casting agents should be beating down her door.

Joeley Gibson has stage presence and charisma but never quite delivers the desperation of fading actress, Arkadina. The part needs a gravitas to convey the arrogance-to-neediness that the character’s journey requires. Flinn Andreae has the looks to play the much-lauded, successful writer but his portrayal of Trigorin leaves you wanting something deeper. The character is either deliberately or accidentally a wrecking ball. The role requires a choice which seemed lacking, as indeed was a level of projection in the opening scene. Andreae has a natural ease on stage – all he needs is a drive to mine his character for all it’s worth to make his presence felt more.

In a room as small as Bridge House Theatre, Verity Johnson has created a set that doesn’t impede the nine-strong cast and even manages a lake (an essential Chekhovian staple) with actual water – although in terms of cubic litreage, there may have been more liquid in the audience’s glasses of Pinot Grigio.  

If you think Chekhov is not your thing, then check out Bridge House Theatre’s The Seagull for a production to make you re-evaluate, with brilliant young actors and an adaptation that delivers the comedy and tragedy of Chekhov’s famous drama. 

A showcase of great young acting talent and a satisfying adaptation of The Seagull

★★★★ (4 stars) and an encouragement to go and see by The Recs

The Seagull Tickets

The Seagull plays at Bridge House Theatre until 3 September

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