Harold Pinter Theatre, London – booking until 10 September 2022
Jamie Lloyd’s quietly compelling production features a cast at the top of their game, but Anya Reiss’ adaptation is a little slow to get going.
Love, jealousy, fame, parent and child relationships and artistic differences are just a few of the themes that emerge and intertwine in Chekov’s play and still somewhat vividly brought to life by the cast of this understated production – even if Anya Reiss’ adaptation could be tightened up further to add more pace.
The Seagull features plenty of relationships dissect and by having it all play out on stage in the most basic way, director Jamie Lloyd allows the emotional core of the language be at the forefront of the show to retain a sense of what is important rather than be distracted by a showy set or even props. Imagination and really listening to the text is important here.
Konstantin is a struggling writer who is in love with Nina and tries to integrate himself in her life in anyway possible – but Nina is more interested in fame and becoming an actress having been told she would do well in the films. Meanwhile, Konstantin’s mother Arkadina is in love with Trigorin a successful writer plagued with self-doubt and soon falls in love with Nina. But of course as tensions increase someone is bound to get hurt.
Adapted for this production by Reiss, the script has a contemporary vibe to allow modern audiences to really relate to the characters and examine them in a different way than had it been a typical period drama playing out in front of us. But it also has plenty of sharp moments of humour that as opposed to breaking the tension in the atmosphere, it actually seeks to increase it.
This is interesting particularly when none of the cast leave the stage at any point, highlighting that all the characters are trapped and in a sense suffocating on this island on which they are staying. However, I do feel as though there are too many moments which feel slightly drawn out – yes this allows for reflection but it also gives the production a sense of uncertainty as to where it is heading.
Lloyd’s production is a deeply psychological focused show and this is reflected in the performances that he has managed to draw out of this strong cast. Daniel Monks as Konstantin is particularly compelling to watch as the audience is never truly sure what he is capable of or what he is going to do next. It is a chilling performance, but equally you get a real sense of the lost and tortured soul that he really is.
Elsewhere, Tina Harris as the bold and somewhat selfish Arkadina gives a dynamic performance – highlighted in a particularly vicious speech she directs at Konstantin after he lets his feelings about Trigorin known. Emilia Clarke as Nina makes a captivating West End debut – a quietly understated performance that captures the character’s naivety and vulnerability whilst never outshining anyone else sharing the stage with her. But the whole cast work well together – really able to bounce off each other to give deep and thoughtful performances.
Yes, this production takes a little time to get going but once it settles down it is a deeply compelling watch – Jamie Lloyd once again proves that simplicity in staging classic plays can absolutely work under the right circumstances.
By Emma Clarendon
The Seagull will play at the Harold Pinter Theatre until the 10th September. You can book tickets here.