Festivals

The Seagull – Gaiety Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival Review

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The Seagull –  Gaiety Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival Review by Paddy McG

By Corn Exchange – From Oct 5-16

Photo credit Ros Kavanagh

Michael West and Annie Ryan’s new version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, in the Gaiety Theatre places the actions in a modern setting with no particular location. The play was written as a comedy, but in this production it teeters at times on the brink of farce, losing the quintessential brittleness and heartbreak just below the surface of Chekhov’s work.  Updated references in Act l (such as Nicorette) and vernacular language (“a fucking disaster”) seem to set audience expectations of broad comedy rather than Chekhov’s quiet comedy of recognition of human foibles, insecurity, vanity and self-delusion.

The acting generally is first class. Stephen Brennan captures the essence of Chekhov, shuffling and smiling his way through the desperation of loneliness, ageing and the onset of illness. Jane McGrath’s Constance (written as a male role, Konstantin) is a revelation as the tormented would-be writer, always in the shadow of her mother, aspiring to produce something different and worthwhile but condemned to a life of sexual and artistic frustration.  McGrath is surely a serious contender for a Best Actress award for this role. Imogen Doel as Masha is totally convincing as a young woman wasting away in a stagnant rural world where there is no possibility of fulfilment. She and McGrath go a long way towards justifying the rewriting of two of the parts as gay women, in this case one who will marry a man she does not love so that she will “change everything”. This rewriting works theatrically, is a valid reading in a contemporary world and does not unbalance the play as it would have done in less skilled hands. Stephen Mullan as the husband strikes the right balance between decent likeability and boring mediocrity – easy to marry, but hard to live with for long.

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In Chekhov, comedy is more like underdeveloped tragedy.  This production opts for a broader comedy, embodied in the central character of the self-absorbed, narcissistic actress, Arkadina (Derbhle Crotty). Crotty’s performance gives full vent to her considerable stage presence and prowess. However, it gives no hint of an undertow of guilt or self-doubt.  When finally she gets to proclaim that Trigorin “is mine” her triumphant turn and delivery to the audience is more pantomime than Chekhov.  Anna Healy’s Paulina storms off the stage in frustration, stuffing a bunch of flowers into her mouth, to howls of hilarity from the audience. When naïve aspiring artiste, Nina (a nicely observed performance from Genevieve Hulme-Beaman), and world-weary Trigorin (Rory Keenan) are allowed an insight into each other’s view of the world, amusement has displaced quiet intimacy.  Trigorin’s response to the shot seagull closing Act ll, “it’s very beautiful” elicits a round of titters.  The tragedy of the final tragic scene is somehow undermined by what has preceded it.

It is refreshing to see great classics rethought and dusted down. There is much to admire in this production, especially the top rate performances. Special mention should be made of Paul O’Mahony’s set design: a huge backdrop, like a blown-up detail from an impressionist painting, a profusion of lush green foliage, like an ironic counterpoint to the stunted, unhappy lives unfolding on stage.

It continues at the Gaiety until October 16th.

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