By Samuel J. Cox
‘The Seagull’ centres upon Arkadina, an aging diva and famous actress clinging to her fading youth and beauty. Played by Emmy and AFI award-winning actress Greta Scacchi, the action begins when she visits her family estate in the Russian countryside to enjoy a comfortable bohemian lifestyle with her entourage. With little to do, the artistic crowd become over-invested in each other’s lives. Arkadina clashes with her son Konstantin (Luke McMahon) who, like Chekhov, dreams of creating a new style of theatre; theatre that deals with ‘the stuff of dreams’, not the realities of life. Struggling to find his voice, and write about ‘things of consequence’, his life in the shadow of his socialite mother has seen him cultivate a childish penchant for melodrama and tantrums. In turn, he clashes with his mother’s significantly younger paramour Boris Trigorin (Ben Mortley), a celebrity author labelled ‘the most important writer living.’
Written by Russian playwright and physician Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), and adapted for the Black Swan State Theatre Company by Hilary Bell, the play is expertly directed by Kate Cherry. Once again, Fiona Bruce’s set and costume design is magnificent. Having built a grand stage upon the stage (stage-ception), it stands before a backdrop of a gorgeous blue lake.
Chekhov’s piece is a heavy-handed discussion of old versus new, the traditional versus the avant-garde, in theatre. An introspective look at the medium, it is not a story so much as a snapshot of life as a member of the elite Russian intelligensia and artistic community. With no narrative arc, nothing happens, and one monologue unhurriedly follows another as characters pontificate their way through the tangle of unrequited love that forms beside the lake. Building to a lukewarm conclusion, the ending lacks currency because the audience is not significantly invested in the characters.
Written in 1896, this work is clever and funny, rather than stuffy and dense, and was the best play I’ve seen grace the Heath Ledge Theatre this season.
‘The Seagull’ runs until August 31.