… by Anton Chekhov and some other clever bastards.
The set was clever. Minimalist, symbolic and undoubtedly clever. But a few round stepping stones do not a lake make. And the text, for all its inventive reworkings (courtesy of John Donnelly) still makes a big deal of the lake, of being in the country. The concept of the water absorbent blank backdrop was fine, but if you’re going to spray-write on it maybe some will find it frustrating if the scrawl has all the legibility of a doctor’s signature, especially if, like me, you’re not familiar with the play.
I don’t know. I wasn’t emotionally engaged and, looking at free e-texts afterwards – presumably ancient translations – not as intellectually engaged as I could have been either. “A play about unrequited love – a story about how we create stories” runs the publicity, but I’d say that this modern dress staging also seemed to foreground the forging of a successful career in the creative industries a lot of the time. The cast of Headlong’s production of Chekhov‘s The Seagull was good enough individually, no problems there except the wimp of a teacher (who had presumably been directed to walk and talk that way) and the audience’s applause at the end was enthusiastic enough, but for me – I was not grabbed. I wasn’t sure why these people spent so much time together and I didn’t feel the love, unrequited or not. It might be me, but being up in the circle last Friday at Watford’s refurbished Palace Theatre (where Marie Lloyd once performed) may not have helped in the appreciation of this decidedly modern and modern dress production.
It’s always going to be difficult, isn’t it, seeing new life injected into a classic when you don’t know the re-worked classic in the first place, but I’m not sure how much Chekhov would have appreciated the masturbation scene; ok, the idea of a writer getting off to his ego being stroked is valid (and she doing the verbal stroking gave the audience a wink) but the literal portrayal of the wank (thankfully just the back view) rather overwhelmed what was actually being said in the original text, was in dramatic effect out of all proportion overall.
There were some nice tweaks of the text I discover on reading some of the trad translation, not least the opening, and I wish I could remember them better. This is, again, from the production’s website:
Idea for a story. A beautiful young girl lives by a lake all her life. She loves this lake. She’s happy and free, like that bird was once. Then a man comes along and for no reason at all – what do you think he does?
The dead seagull, offered as a token, returns later to the action as a professionally stuffed and mounted bird, which someone mentions is actually a tern. Rather than dwell on the throes of unrequited love, Masha’s explanation at the start of the second half (Act 3) of why she is going to marry a man she doesn’t love, is paraphrased as something like:
“One must do something to counteract the misery of existence in this world.”
“How will you do it?” asks the writer.
“By marrying Medviedenko,” she says.
“The school-teacher?” he queries.
“Then don’t marry a school teacher,” says the woman sitting next to me, fairly obviously, from chat of her three companions during the interval, at the very least married to one.