By Ben Clark
To stage a Chekhov play in two weeks is no mean feat. The Seagull, in particular, presents a unique set of challenges, featuring a play-within-a-play, a suicidal lover and so many love triangles you’ll walk out seeing shapes. Yet Fortnight Theatre Company certainly did it justice—their naturalistic take on this tale of unrequited love made for an entertaining watch.
First, the highlights: Sarah Cameron as Madame Arkadina was simply phenomenal. Her presence, her voice, her ability to flip vertiginously from one emotional extreme to the other… I was spellbound. Not only did she nail Arkadina’s narcissism, she also got across her wheedling yet domineering relationship with Trigorin (Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker). Their relationship was beautifully evoked in the scene where Trigorin tells Arkadina he’s leaving her for Nina (a young aspiring actress), only for Arkadina to cajole him into changing his mind. Trigorin’s sigh of defeat— ‘I have no will of my own… I never had a will of my own’—was delivered with poise by Kishore, who made a very convincing, single-minded, head-in-the-clouds artiste. One of his best scenes was that in which he explains his fixation with writing to a besotted Nina (Millie Blair). ‘I am held day and night by one obsessive thought: I must write, I must write, I must…’ In this speech, which is one of the longest in the play, one felt a genuine sense of sympathy towards Trigorin, whose pressing need to write has taken over his entire life.
Trigorin is not the only tragic character in The Seagull: Treplef, played by Theodore Holt-Bailey, is scarred by the harsh treatment he receives from Nina, who doesn’t love him, and his mother, who won’t support his play-writing because of her own vanity. At the very beginning of the play, Treplef attempts to stage an experimental piece of drama (set 20,000 years into the future), with Nina as the only actress. One could not help but sympathise with poor Treplef as his mother talked and laughed throughout his play.
Unfortunately, the performance was slightly hampered by the spatial constraints of the Assembly Rooms Theatre: Treplef’s avant-garde play had to be put on in what was essentially a large box—there simply wouldn’t have been room for more. This wasn’t the biggest problem caused by the lack of space, however, as the scenes featuring all or most of the cast became somewhat cramped. After the interval, this problem was solved by the use of a second, lower part of the stage, which meant that there could be different things going on different levels. The scenery also felt much more real with the inclusion of a lower level—if only the cast had used this extra level from the beginning!
Aside from this issue, I felt that the Fortnight Theatre Company got across the message of the play very successfully, especially its (somewhat ironic) challenge to the dramatic status quo. Treplef’s dismissal of modern theatre is brutal: ‘Out of these trite images and phrases they try to fish out a moral. ’The irony is that Treplef’s own attempt at revolutionary drama is farcical. Indeed, Millie Blair as Nina drew a fair few laughs for her performance in Treplef’s play, which was a rare moment of comedy in what was a fairly bleak production. The most heart-rending scene of this performance was the final argument between Treplef and his mother, ending when Madame Arkadina says, crushingly: ‘You’re an insignificant nobody!’ Once again Sarah Cameron as Arkadina went from incandescent with rage to utterly contrite in a matter of moments. Too late, however: Holt-Bailey as Treplef looked utterly crushed. It was these intimate, two-person scenes that really made the play for me.
If you fancy a thought-provoking meditation on love, parenthood and theatre itself, go watch The Seagull at the Assembly Rooms Theatre. It’ll be worth your while.
‘The Seagull’ will be shown at The Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 1st of December until Saturday, 3rd of December at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Fortnight Theatre