12. July 2022
Harold Pinter Theatre
1.0 out of 5.0 stars
Anton Chekov’s famous play The Seagull has seen many productions over the decades. First produced in 1896, it has gotten a new rewrite and much anticipated staging starring Indira Varma and Emilia Clarke.
I’ve previously seen the play staged, so wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the material. It’s a stark play focussing on creative people and their struggles, while playing with several love triangles. It’s a passionate and dramatic play that feasts on loss and pain. Deep foreshadowing and by now predictable storylines are dressed up with many words and impassioned speeches.
However, under Jamie Lloyd’s direction, Anya Reiss’ rewrite has lost most of it’s emotional depth. Staged in a wooden chip-board box, with plastic chairs and all actors bare-footed and in comfy clothes, the passion and drama was sorely missing from this production. All actors are on stage simultaneously, moving their chairs to the side or the back when they aren’t meant to be in the scene, which makes the setting somewhat confusing when a character says their farewells and then simply moves two feet away to stare at the wall while other characters happily chat about them as if they weren’t in the room. Because they’re not meant to be.
None of the settings are recognizable as the stage is this stark box filled with chairs and people. Only the conversations give hints about where and how things are developing. I found this a rather strange choice for a play that draws so deeply on emotions. Actors speak to one another while sitting in chairs facing the audience, leading to scenes in which characters plead for another’s love while not even looking at the person. It all felt quite sterile to me. As one of the characters points out quite early on, it’s “all speeches, no action”.
For me, this was definitely a failed attempt at reviving a classic, draining it of all its passion and meaning and replacing it with something that felt hollow and smug. I left at interval, which I do not do lightly, and I wasn’t alone in this.