The Seagull at Southwark Playhouse Photo: Ben Carpenter
Published: 15 November, 2012
by ALICE HUTTON
A MODERN version of The Seagull with laptops, iPods, mobile phone contracts and Jeeps is, in theory, to be approached with caution.
But under the darkened brick caverns of the Southwark Playhouse, Anya Reiss’ new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1896 tragi-comedy is sharp and touching.
Reiss, only 20 and already the winner of the Evening Standard’s most Most Promising Playwright award, has updated Chekhov’s usual “Russian aristocracy going to seed in the country at the turn of the century” to the Isle of Man and the bright lights Big City is London, not Moscow.
Desperately unhappy characters are all brought together one summer at the estate of retired Supreme Court Judge Sorin (Malcolm Tierney). They are: Sorin’s solipsistic sister the ageing, famous actress Arkadina (played with great maternal neglect by Sasha Waddell), her 25-year-old adolescent son Konstantin (Joseph Drake), who lives painfully in her shadow and is in love with the effervescently beautiful but naive local girl, Nina, (played by the excellent Lily James, known to some as Downton Abbey’s “bad girl” Lady Rose), who aspires to become an actress, but is more interested in Arkadina’s lover, the shy, successful author Trigorin (Anthony Howell), who struggles with fame.
In general the casting is perfect, and while I have always had a soft spot for the really rather good Matthew “Stars in their Eyes” Kelly (as Dorn), it is Malcolm Tierney’s old, gentle and slowly forgotten Sorin who breaks my heart.
In many ways it has been treated with the deftest of touches by both playwright, director Russell Bolam and his production team, with minimalist staging and great chemistry.
And I enjoyed it enough to ignore the slight sledgehammer/nut touch from Reiss when hammering home the “seagull as young girl destroyed by careless man” motif. I counted maybe six references – enough now, we get it.
Still – a night well spent.
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