The Seagull at the Lyric Hammersmith
In Chekhov’s often revisited tragicomedy, a thrown-together group looks to one another for salvation. Each thirsts for someone else’s approval, whether that’s sexual intimacy, acknowledgement of talent or real, dependable love. In Simon Stephens’s new version, the comedy is teased out to its full potential and there’s a modern tilt to it, aided by a 21st century-fied script that still retains its poetry.
An abundance of little twists and changes keep this retelling fresh. Sweet young Nina, often presented as a complete innocent, explores (just slightly) a deliberately seductive side here, which is interesting to watch and makes sense. Troubled writer Konstantin retreats now and again to strum on an electric guitar, which gives him a suitably angsty edge. There’s the addition of a short sex scene between attention-loving Irina and her wandering-eyed Boris, which, in its seediness, befits the slimy man and desperate woman better than simple flattery and cajoling.
At times a little tacky, the set features neon tubes and an abundance of fairy lights. The decision to carry out rather lengthy scene changes behind a screen that makes shadow puppetry of the proceedings is odd, and the audience takes it as a chance to chatter. But occasionally there’s a dreamlike quality to the show, which is soothing to witness and fits Konstantin’s own pronounced artistic objectives: it’s in the music that accompanies the fading “sulphur” smoke and the storm that ruffles the clear plastic partitions of the study.
Lesley Sharp and Nicolas Tennant as siblings Irina and Peter are show-stealers: she with her self-absorbed flamboyancy and the way the audience is kept guessing as to her authenticity; he with his childlike transparency and booming voice.
Not all of the relationships are clear from the start, which makes some of the scenes a little confusing. While the central characters have been well thought through, others on the edge of the group struggle to hold much allure. The acting is inconsistent, with some less-than-convincing turns diluting the excellent ones. By the final act, this causes some of the action to feel longer than it needs to be.
Despite some uneven acting, The Seagull manages to strike the balance between humour, warmth and poignancy.
Photo: Tristram kenton
The Seagull is at the Lyric Hammersmith from 3rd October until 4th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Lyric Hammersmith website here.