Simon Stephens’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull is a vivid exploration of the depths of passion and of the forgotten moments in between. The sharp, fresh dialogue offers new insights into the timeless questions posed by Chekhov’s play.
Lesley Sharp is electrifying as Irina, a faded actress come to the countryside to visit her ailing brother, Peter (Nicolas Tennant). Her quick movements and witty banter belie the deep emption behind her entreaties to her lover, Boris (Nicholas Gleaves), to stay by her side as he is drawn to the vibrant ingenue, Nina (Adelayo Adedayo). Adedayo is captivating as the muse of two very different writers, Boris and Konstantin (Brian Vernel), Irina’s son. Nina’s youth and her naïve faith in the theatre reinvigorate the lauded but frustrated Boris, while her passion for acting inspires Konstantin to express his admiration through new literary forms. The lovestruck Konstantin, in turn, is pursued by Marcia (Cherrelle Skeete), who, alone, recognizes and appreciates his talent and vision. These passionate intrigues form the heart of a script which muses on the value of art and creativity, family and fate.
Though Chekhov’s play centres on the rivalry between Konstantin and Boris, on the vagaries of literary fame and the injustices of fortune, in Stephens’s hands it is the women who carry the show. Sharp delivers an impassioned defence of Boris’s art and her own role in supporting him, even as he begs her to let him seduce Nina. Adedayo offers a provocative portrayal of Nina’s mercurial descent into insanity in a final scene with a wretched Konstantin, revealing an inner strength of purpose and a renewed commitment to her acting dream, even as Konstantin’s will to continue wanes. The bitter experience of disappointed love is skilfully portrayed by a steely Skeete and a tender Michele Austin (Pauline), whose fates seem destined to mirror one another, pining for men who use but do not see them.
The Lyric production of The Seagull contrasts youth’s bright hope for the future with the jaded clarity of experience. This juxtaposition is reflected in the precise, choreographic direction of each scene, at times starkly bare, at others claustrophobic, as the actors huddle round a card table or to make a toast. The lighting and sound design complement this dynamic climate through a play of light and shadow, in between scenes, and a rousing score. This play about the theatre doesn’t shy away from addressing the audience directly. The stage is handled with an acute consciousness of the audience’s perception, vividly capturing the sultry heat of a summer in the countryside, the passing of the seasons and the howl of a storm in winter. The ornate setting of the Lyric Theatre is a striking contrast to the stark modern scenes of this production.
Stephen’s The Seagull moves sharply between the absurd and the profound, depicting boredom and passion and bringing to light the humour, the tragedy and the frustration of desire beneath the lines of Chekhov’s play. This new version of Chekhov’s much-produced play reveals a unique sensitivity to the poetry of character and situation and offers a vibrant, lyrical performance which breathes new life into Chekhov’s work.