Chekhov's groundbreaking comedy starts a welcome run in Birmingham, directed by Andrew Brooks.
The story centres on unsuccessful playwright Konstantin Treplev (Jacob Williams) and his actress girlfriend Nina (Hannah Birkin). When Nina falls in love with the successful writer Boris Trigorin (John O'Neill) Treplev kills a seagull and places it at her feet. So begins a complex tale of unrequited love, jealousy, regret and missed opportunities: themes as relevant in 2019 as they were when the play was first performed in 1896.
Regarded as the best Russian dramatist of them all, Anton Chekhov, in conjunction with Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre, brought about a new realistic theatre and 'naturalistic' acting style in the 1890s. The Seagull (1896) was the first of his four major works which also include Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.
The Crescent's latest main stage production takes on this demanding play (in a new version by Christopher Hampton) with confidence, commitment and strong storytelling from the thirteen-strong cast. Jacob Williams nicely captures the shy, introverted and melancholic Treplev and is especially strong in portraying his conflicted relationship with his mother, ageing stage diva Irina Arkadina, played with just the right mix of vulgarity and pity by Karen Leadbetter.
Trigorin, famous middlebrow story writer and Arkadina's lover (for a while at least), is convincingly played by John O'Neill in a performance which conveyed the intensity and all-consuming nature of being 'a writer' above all else. And Nina, who becomes Trigorin's lover, adds to the complex mesh of relationships in a performance by Hanna Birkin which caught the passion and longing of the aspiring young artist. There was strong support from the rest of the cast too, notably in a very promising turn as the depressive and moody Masha from Amy Johnson.
So is this a play about art? Writers and writing? Actors and acting? Whilst these are interesting ideas, director Andrew Brooks brings out the intriguing, complex and conflicted human relationships at the heart of the play to satisfying effect. It's a play about love, ultimately. Unrequited love. In this production this theme is centre stage. It makes for an engaging and stimulating evening of torn sympathies at the theatre. Highly recommended.
'The Seagull' is playing at The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, until 9th February 2019.