Anton Chekhov's The Seagull
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | London
directed by Matthew Dunster
I wonder what Stanislavski would make of this. Here his famously-accented ‘bits’ – or beats, slices of action in this oft-revived Chekhov – are accompanied by Christopher Shutt’s jarring bass drone. These moments of ominous importance, klaxons that would be more at home in a trailer for a Michael Bay film, occur countless times throughout the evening and are about as subtle as a faceful of Soviet propaganda. It’s one of a few odd directorial choices in Matthew Dunster’s Seagull that impede rather than inspire. Jon Bausor’s spacious set, wood tiling giving way to open grass in the second half, is reflected and projected by a great nature’s mirror. Whimsically pretty it may be, but its purpose eludes scrutiny. At one point towards the play’s end it flares up like a floodlight on a football pitch, a surprise both powerful and yet extravagantly tacky in its conception. Shedding light on the situation could have been done in better ways.
Neither does Torben Betts’ adaptation particularly convince. The tweaking of Chekhov’s best lines produces a bastardized, discordant effect. “The fact is Konstantin has shot himself” becomes “The fact is Konstantin just blew his brains out” – a less-than poetic flourish that adds little other than laughs. The performances, too, are uneven. Janie Dee’s Arkadina is a reassuring if not revolutionary presence; her relationship with her son could benefit from more irascibility. Matthew Tennyson’s Konstantin is spryly effective, a pleasingly pathetic portrayal, frenetically depressed rather than egomaniacally perturbed. Lisa Diveney’s Masha goes from strength to strength, her pain blossoming into a troubled, tangled mess before our very eyes. Unfortunately the Nina of this production lacks such complexity, and seems unconnected to anything much at all.
Another conceptual quirk is the pre-recorded monologues deployed during scenes to draw us into the characters’ thoughts. This works well enough in comic instances, but overall the feel of it, as with much else here, is style over substance. A dissatisfactory and occasionally bizarre production.
photo | ©Johan Persson