The Seagull – Young Chekhov Season at the National Theatre
Perhaps the best known of the three plays selected by Chichester Festival Theatre Productions for the Young Chekhov trilogy, The Seagull also comprises the Russian master’s most introspective work, in part an exploration of the challenges inherent to the creation of art.
Set on the country estate where aspiring writer Konstantin (Joshua James) lives in the shadow of his overbearing and self-obsessed mother, the famous actress Irina Arkadina (Anna Chancellor), The Seagull shows Tom Pye’s exquisite set design off to the fullest. The piece opens on the tranquil shore of the fully realised lake, which forms the stage for a play-within-a-play, and Konstantin’s attempts to wow assembled friends and relatives with a high-minded “new form” of theatre starring his sweetheart Nina (Olivia Vinall). Chekhov’s genius with his own form – profoundly authentic domestic tragedy shot through with humour – pervades all as the young man’s naively idealistic dreams of love and artistic success are dashed by ignominy.
Rising to the standard set by the text itself, the cast inhabit their roles with uniform assuredness. Veteran Peter Egan lends gravitas at the head of the household as Sorin and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Trigorin delivers the subtle callousness upon which the two halves of the play hinge. Chancellor’s performance is a highlight among highlights, with an unfulfilled sadness underpinning the frequent laugh-out-loud moments her blustery arrogance provides. Elsewhere Jade Williams’ Masha, dour and clad in black as a depressive counterbalance to the angelic Nina, also deserves special mention for ably foreshadowing the dark tragedy of the play’s heartbreaking rain-sodden climax.
This is truly marquee theatre, and the opportunity to revel in the palpable sense of technical and creative teams at the top of their game coming together to form a well-oiled machine, so as to best showcase Chekhov’s remarkable talent as a storyteller. Not to be missed.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Seagull is on at the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre from 3rd August until 8th October 2016. Book your tickets here.