When The Seagull first opened in 1886, the reviews of Anton Chekhov’s labour of love weren’t favourable. Ironic considering the play deals with the woes of struggling writer Konstantin. As Chekhov refined the script and direction, it became a work in progress and had Konstantin also refined his own play within the play, Chekhov would have been telling a different story entirely. Art imitating life? Or the other way around?
Interestingly, to this day the play receives mixed reviews and many would agree The Seagull isn’t without its flaws and the term “one dimensional” currently being rallied around by the critics isn’t entirely unfounded. Chekhov cannot be blamed for the reaction of a modern audience already so well-versed in the foibles of human nature; after all we’ve had over a hundred years more to analyse, explore and dissect each other than his intended Russian audience. Adapting any classic is fraught with danger and Hilary Bell’s interpretation of the original script takes us on the gentle ebb and flow of human emotion. Love, jealousy, despair, heartache and infidelity are but a few consternations and it’s the interactions between the characters which are as telling as their lines; especially the presentation of the dead seagull.
As rivalries and love triangles unfold, there is a seamless cohesiveness between the characters which is beautiful to watch and yet at odds with Chekhov’s tortured tale. Greta Scacchi plays Arkadina as an ageing actress and diva who rules over her kingdom and the Russian country estate the play is set in with the kind of caustic wit which only an overbearing mother and beautiful woman can command. Her dashing son Konstantin (Luke McMahon) bears most of her wrath and already burdened by fragility and self-doubt he is further plunged into darkness by the complexities of his love interest Nina; whose stage debut occurs alongside her real-life mother Scacchi. And so on do the tangled webs weave until the themes of love, longing and delusion are so entwined until they naturally self-combust.
There is much comic relief throughout and watch for Rebecca Davis’ portrayal of love sick servant Masha who cuts the air with her punchy quips. After all, doesn’t the best humour come from a dark place? Many questions remain unanswered, but then that’s the way life goes and the performance leaves punters pondering for many days, if not years, to come.
Don’t miss my interview with Luke McMahon The Seagull plays at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia 9th – 31st August 2014