Robert Tanitch reviews The Seagull at National Theatre/Olivier Theatre.
Jonathan Kent directs a season of plays by Anton Chekhov under the collective title of Young Chekhov. You can see Platanov, Ivanov and The Seagull separately or all three on the same day.
The Seagull, the most regularly performed of the three, was first staged in St Petersburg in 1896. The actors had a disastrous first night. The audience thought they were going to see a farce and booed.
Two years later, produced at the newly formed Moscow Arts Theatre and benefiting from a long rehearsal period, the play was a huge success – so successful that The Moscow Arts Theatre adopted the seagull as its emblem.
Chekhov didn’t like Stanislavsky’s production, finding it too melancholic and sluggish. He wanted more comedy. “In life,” he said, “everything is mixed up: the profound with the trite, the tragic with the comic.” It is his masterly ability to balance all three at the same time which have made him so popular with classical actors and directors.
All the great stage actors have wanted to appear in his plays.
The Seagull, with its endless triangles of unrequited love, is the first of his great hymns to time passing and opportunities missed or denied.Everybody is unhappy. Everybody is in love with the wrong person
Konstantin (Joshua James), a young unperformed playwright, loves Nina (Olivia Vinall), a stage-struck girl, who loves Trigorin (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a famous writer, who is loved by Arkadina (Anna Chancellor), Konstantin’s mother, a famous actress.
Chekhov is particularly well served by Anna Chancellor’s Arkadina, openly bored by her son’s play, boasting absurdly she could pass for 15 on the stage and degrading herself to keep Trigorin.
Peter Egan is old Sorin, full of unrealized ambitions, who spent his life in the Civil Service, the one thing he didn’t want to do. Adrian Lukis is Dorn, the cynical doctor, leaving a trail of unhappy women in his wake.