Review: The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre ★★★★☆

by Chris Dobson

Playwright Anya Reiss has modernised Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull, introducing concepts such as blogs and the internet. Director Jamie Lloyd ensures, however, that the core of the story remains true to Chekhov’s original work. Soutra Gilmour’s set is as bare as possible, consisting of just ten chairs set against a woodchip backdrop. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design is harsh and forensic, whilst composer George Dennis provides a gentle score for the performance.

Emilia Clarke in The Seagull. Photo: Marc Brenner

The plot itself is somewhat hard to sum up, but in essence, The Seagull could be described as a tragicomic romance, in which ten characters bicker, philosophise and express their dreams and fears. The main character is not really Emilia Clarke’s Nina, but rather Konstantin, an insecure would-be author who does not take criticism very well. Daniel Monks plays Konstantin with such conviction, it is hard not to get irritated by his constant aura of sadness, which stands in contrast to Masha (Sophie Wu), the emo daughter of Shamrayev (Jason Barnett) and Polina (played on the press night by Tina Harris). Wu’s performance clearly expresses Masha’s nihilism, but in a way which is humorous rather than wearisome.

Indira Varma in The Seagull. Photo: Marc Brenner

Konstantin is caught in a love triangle with Nina (an aspiring actress) and Trigorin (Tom Rhys Harries), a successful author who nonetheless has doubts about his own worth. Clarke and Harries do not exhibit a great deal of chemistry on stage, but this production does not strive for realism; indeed, from the beginning it is presented as a self-aware commentary on theatre specifically and art in general. The effect is one of Verfremdung, or alienation: The audience is always aware that the characters on stage are, indeed, fictional characters being played by actors. In this regard, live theatre differs from film, which so often strives so hard to be perceived as real.

The full cast of The Seagull. Photo: Marc Brenner

The star of the show is undoubtedly Indira Varma (a co-star of Clarke’s in Game of Thrones and, more recently, Obi-Wan Kenobi). Her character, Arkadina, exudes energy, bouncing from a loving warmth in one scene to a harsh honesty in the next. It is a shame that she does not have a more prominent role in the play, the focus of which is on the younger characters who are, for the most part, less interesting than Arkadina, the only character who seems confident in her identity. Other characters, such as Medvedenko (Mika Onyx Johnson) and Dorn (Gerald Kyd) are given little to do, which raises the question of whether the play’s cast (and running time) could have been trimmed.

Sophie Wu in The Seagull. Photo: Marc Brenner

Rounding out the cast is Robert Glenister as Arkadina’s brother Sorin, who complains about the ageing process and frequently nods off during the play, leading his fellow characters to occasionally wonder if he has gone and died. Whilst Chekhov’s style is very distinct and will certainly not be to everyone’s tastes, the cast in this performance of The Seagull is undoubtedly accomplished, and Reiss and Lloyd have a good go at modernising Chekhov’s 127-year-old play.

The Seagull is at Harold Pinter Theatre until 10 September

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Chris Dobson is a freelance journalist from the North of England. He now lives in North London and is passionate about theatre, film and literature.