Theatre: Love in all its most tangled and unrequited forms is at the heart of Chekhov’s first major play
The Seagull, Gaiety Theatre
In this new production by Corn Exchange directed by Annie Ryan and adapted by Michael West, the loves remain the same, but with one crucial difference. Here, the young writer Konstantin is now Constance, he has become she.
But Constance still desperately wants the love of her mother, the famous actress Arkadina, who only loves herself. Constance is also deeply in love with Nina who wants to love the successful author Trigorin, but he too is also in love with himself. And, behind it all, Masha, the morose daughter of the housekeeper, is enduringly in love with Constance. And, despite this central gender change, this is not a radical production, we love who we love.
‘The Seagull’ opens with a man and woman sitting on the bench on an empty stage, he asks her why she always wears black, she replies because she is in mourning for her life. So far, so Chekhov. In West’s version, we have a strong sense of how Chekhov wanted to provoke and experiment. The conceitedly vainglorious Arkadina desperately scrabbling to get the spotlight back on to herself, willfully oblivious to her daughter’s profound unhappiness. Tragedy is inescapable in this world of loneliness.
There are many strengths to the production, not least of which are Derbhle Crotty’s Arkadina and Jane McGrath's Constance, and Louis Lovett is a wonderful Doctor Dorn, the only character with real empathy.
However, there is an intimacy demanded by Chekhov's situations and that is not often achieved here. The scale of the stage is part of the problem and the set design by Paul O’Mahony serves only to enhance this vast emptiness. And this emotional distance is magnified by slow pacing and often flattened energy. Love is the killer here and we should be devastated by that.