The State Theatre Company of SA’s version of The Seagull, adapted by Hilary Bell, is irresistibly compelling.
Sometimes a production comes along that is so natural, so precisely attuned to the spirit of the playwright’s intentions, that it stimulates and inflates the mind. This production reignites Chekhov’s masterpiece and infuses it with integrity, making it relevant for a contemporary audience. It is near flawless; full, metaphoric and richly evocative of a time, place and the human condition.
Marvellously directed by Geordie Brookman, and beautifully led by a powerhouse performance from Xavier Samuel (Konstantin), the play takes a satirical, bitter-sweet and poignant peek at Chekhov’s dissatisfied characters who crave love, art and attention. What’s more, Brookman remains true to the ideas surrounding naturalistic theatre and has his players perform on a walkway with a podium either end and the whole paved with rough-hewn wooden blocks. The set grounds the performers and all deliver Bell’s modifications with modern speech-forms, frankness, sensitivity and nuance.
The performances are brilliant, with the humour coming mostly from the lesser characters and often from painful truths and flippancy. Samuel is inspired as his Konstantin slips in and out of anger and depression, yet is always seeking love and matriarchal positive regard.
Rosalba Clemente plays his mother, Irina Arkadina, as an insecure cougar who tries to hide her emotions – but never quite succeeds – in raw places; she’s delightfully deluded and more accessible for it. Renato Musolino portrays Trigorin as a capricious lover with a steely and hedonistic interior, and Terence Crawford is charmingly facetious as Dr Dorn. Among the other cast members, Matilda Bailey (Masha) and Paul Blackwell (Sorin), in particular, involve the audience deeply and meaningfully. Even the lesser characters – Shamrayev (Chris Pitman), Polina (Lizzy Falkland), Matthew Gregan (Medvedenko) – have a strong impact.
Due to all these fine portrayals, the drama is elevated to something quite remarkable.
This production’s agile rendering of the script is spellbinding. With Samuel at the centre of it all, sinking lovelorn misery to a faithful and triumphant art, and numerous dramatis personae impeccably supplementing the image, this reconsideration of Chekhov’s tour de force is dazzling.
The Seagull is playing at the State Theatre Company of SA’s Scenic Workshop until March 16.
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