Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 12th June 2018
“basics like vocal projection, coarse acting and stilted pacing let down its avant-garde aspirations”
In ‘The Seagull’, considered the first of his great works, Anton Chekhov was evidently reacting to his publisher’s advice that he should start to put quality above quantity. In the play, Trigorin (Robert Anthony) is also a prolific and successful writer, who embodies Chekhov’s industrious approach, when he says, ‘Day and night I am held in the grip of one besetting thought, to write, write, write!’ Arkadina (played in Alison Steadman style by Ciara Pounchett) is drawn to Trigorin’s fame, clinging not only to him, but to success, money and to maintaining her own youthful image. She visits her brother, Peter Sorin (Monty Lloyd), withering away on his country estate devoid of any such object of desire, to watch Konstantin (Dominic Debartolo), her son from a previous relationship, who attempts and fails to impress her, along with the rest of the gathering, with his own experimental theatre.
Thus, the themes of celebrity, acceptance, rejection, the yearning for love and affirmation become intertwined, and it’s the aspiring actress Nina, who compares these ineluctable forces to the drift of seagulls toward the lake on the estate. Konstantin, frustrated in love and raging at the complacency of the establishment, then shoots the eponymous seabird, ironically handing Trigorin inspiration for yet another book, the plot for which sounds very similar to the one we are watching.
Chekhov’s style is slow, layered, open to parody and fringe productions are not for the risk averse. Folding the country house vistas of Sorin’s estate into a room above a pub is a grim challenge and a ‘sexual, provocative and mind blowing modern interpretation’ is hardly guaranteed to convey the play’s elusive truths. Still, Theatre Collection’s founder Victor Sobchak was imprisoned for six months by the KGB for staging Jesus Christ Superstar in Russia, so is not unfamiliar with courage, or indeed small spaces. The set is accordingly basic, furnished with whatever is available from whatever period. The dialogue is adapted with familiar English idioms, with Sorin declaring himself ‘knackered’ and Konstantin reacting to Nina with ‘my arse’, but Masha and Medvedenko’s relationship (Sadie Pepperrell and Simon D’Aquino) seems diminished played only as bickering antagonists.
There are audacious ideas that work brilliantly, such as the unrequested blow job which both halts Trigorin’s drift towards Nina and clarifies Arkadina’s ruthless control. But Konstantin’s audacious accent did nothing to advance comprehension. Dominic Debartolo looked fine as the rebel creative, with eyeliner and shapeless black coat, but although his atonal cockney may have been intended to remind us of his father’s suspect roots, its random vowels and stresses meant it did so constantly.
There is a wonderful sense of abandon about Victor Sobchak’s back catalogue, with Theatre Collection being his third Anglo Russian theatre company. This collaboration with fellow Director Chris Diacopolous combines adventure and experience, but basics like vocal projection, coarse acting and stilted pacing let down its avant-garde aspirations. That advice about quality and quantity still holds.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Victor Schobak
Lion & Unicorn Theatre until 17th June
Previously reviewed at this venue