29 June 2022
THE SEAGULL (Harold Pinter Theatre) Review

This is The Seagull redux of the 2020 run that had to be cancelled just a handful of performances into it due to the Covid lockdown.  It was much anticipated partly because hardly anyone got to see it 2 years ago and partly because the text is a modernisation, rather than a translation, of Chekhov’s classic by Anya Reiss.  On a personal note, I was looking forward to seeing it because, although I don’t always like Jamie Lloyd’s choices, I tend to discover something new and interesting about his direction in every play of his I see.

In a word, I was disappointed.  Everything was sort of fine, but none of it was great…

First, the text.  I didn’t like the adaptation.  There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it, but it just didn’t have the kind of flow Chekhov usually does.  A fair few aspects of it didn’t add anything to the play, meaning the whole modernisation was pointless, like when the characters are talking about having no mobile signal on the lake. I absolutely loathed the modernised version of Cyrano that Lloyd staged in 2019.  This wasn’t nowhere near as bad, but felt equally as pointless.  I must also comment on the use of diminutive names, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in translations.  It’s unnecessary to use multiple versions of the same name when shifting languages.  By and large, most names were consistent, but, even though “Kostya” was plenty fine and was used 90% of the time, there was periodic switching to “Konstantin”, which doesn’t add anything to those who don’t understand how diminutives are generated (case in point, the woman next to me whispering “who?” to her companion the first time they swapped names).

Second, the acting.  I think the biggest problem for me was that none of it stood out.  Everyone was going through the motions, but it somehow didn’t feel genuine.  Emilia Clarke as Nina was more awkward than fragile; she was naive, but wasn’t sympathetic; she smiled, but was largely devoid of emotion except for the last scene.  Indira Varma as Irina was suitably hoity-toity, but you couldn’t work out how she felt about her brother, whether her feeling for her lover were genuine, or what her problem was with her son.  I was expecting some background to be communicated, but none of it came through.  Tom Rhys Harries as Trigorin didn’t work for me at all.  He muttered, stuttered, waffled…  A directorial choice, I presume (I’d seen Harries in Mojo some years back, and remember liking him then), but he just came across as perpetually baffled and confused.  Robert Glenister as Sorin seemed like a man trapped in a role that has nowhere to go.  Daniel Monks as Kostya was suitably neurotic and probably met my expectations the most.  The other 5 actors provided a fine supporting cast, but there wasn’t any real depth to those characters.  If the goal was to adapt and modernised, I think the whole Masha/Medvedenko line could’ve been cut for all it was contributing…

In fact, the more I think about it, the more the whole evening felt like that Eddie Izzard’s skit about British films: “Films with very fine acting but the drama is […] folded in, and everything is people opening doors,
– Oh… I’m… Oh…
– What?
– Well, I eh.. Oh…
– What is it Sebastian? I’m arranging matches…
– Well I… I thought you… I better go…
– Yes, I think you better have…”

Third, the direction.  We’d seen a bare stage with chairs in Lloyd’s “Cyrano”.  We’d seen characters hanging around at the back of the stage instead in Lloyd’s “Betrayal” (where, frankly, it made sense as a reminder that there was always the third person affected by every conversation, unlike here).  I was looking forward to seeing something new and original staging-wise, but it felt like a reshuffle of the same bag of tricks.

My gut says the critics are going to love it.  It’ll be rave reviews, Broadway transfer, all sorts.  It’s not a bad production, but it’s just not for me.  That said, I don’t want to be unfair.  If you haven’t seen anything of Jamie Lloyd’s (or not in recent years anyway), it’s worth seeing.  If you haven’t seen a staging of a Chekhov play in a while, it’s worth seeing.  If you want a fine evening at the theatre, it’s probably worth seeing.  But if you want to see something that’s going to truly wow you…  your mileage may vary.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £0.

Bonus:  The stage has stairs on each side, and, at the end of the first act, some of the actors step down and exit.  Harries returns, turns his back to the audience, and leans on the stage to talk to Clarke who is still up there.  A woman in the front row (in front of whom he was standing) put her hands up, without touching him, of course, and made a very obvious bum-squeezing gesture.  Quite a few people in the audience laughed, myself included.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kim

    I am a little still unsure about it all. Kind of felt it didn’t deliver – perhaps I was expecting a more expansive play. Poetic, artistic and rather side of things I got and kind of enjoyed. Kind of liked the range of emotions expressed by Emilia Clarke – albeit limited – felt it did need more. Most impressive and convincing was the expression of infatuation aka young love in her mannerism and facial expression in the background scene with Tom Harries. Casting of Daniel Monks was superb and his character had depth (communication of tortured soul came across).

    Overall, I enjoyed it but wouldn’t get of bed to see it if it was also being shown on TV or Emilia isn’t in it. Oh! I actually didn’t mind the modernisation of it with contemporary references – brought it closer home. Having said that, I haven’t seen other productions.

    Also I have had the pleasure or pain (ha! ha!) of being on one those holidays where you can’t wait to get back home or civilisation but transport is on scheduled runs coupled with the fact no one is capable of driving you to nearest transit point 😉

    It felt like fast food, not quite filling. Or food served without enough spice and no salt or pepper available on the table either (I would avoid saying ‘bland’ ha! ha!) – Just edible.

    1. Moggie

      That’s really insightful! I think you hit the key point there: “it needed more” of rather a few things… And yeah, Monk probably was one of the strongest best-expressed characters, far more so than Varma for me.

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