The original playwright enjoyed vast success as a result of his complex imaginings and allegories woven into the narrative, ignoring opportunities for high and messy drama. Chekhov was careful to keep dramatic and gory scenes to a minimum, choosing instead to hint with atmosphere and a self-aware script.
Reiss maintains this subtle recipe of plotting and metaphor in her 21st century interpretation. While hers is a shorter, simplified play it maintains its complex and painful intent with a gradual development. The play’s themes are clear from the start, beginning with the uninspiring romance between impetuous Masha (Emily Dobbs) and dull teacher Medvedenko (Ben Moor), who has long been suffering both his unrequited affections for Masha and his unsatisfactory mobile phone costs. This peek into their lives sets the stage for what is to follow: high expectations, disappointment and a hopelessness that is displayed between these two remain themes throughout.
Contrasting with Chekhov’s original, the plot is centred on sensitive budding playwright Konstantin, played by Joseph Drake rather than his mother. Konstantin is tightly wound and intense, living perpetually on the edge of his nerves and temper. His devotion and intensity is focused on three aspects of his life: his passion for writing, the young and lovely landowner’s daughter Nina (played by a rather breathy and enthusiastic Lily James) and his complicated Oedipal resentment for his selfish mother, wonderfully displayed by Sasha Waddell.
The play moves gradually in the first act, having moved from Chekhov’s country estate to the Isle of Man, it seems necessary to have a slow start due to the complex relationships between characters and it is soon evident which issues will rub with each member of the cast. Konstantin’s self-penned conceptual play is met with ridicule from his family and associates and it is here we see the characters really begin to unfold, their armour showing cracks that will widen as the play unravels.
The second act is where the entire play falls into place, every character fits into their part perfectly as we see their defensive layers of pride and ego fall away. Konstantin dramatically presents a dead seagull to delicate and impassioned Nina who responds with distance and shock. The play leads the audience enraptured until the final moment, casting light on the cruelty and sheer selfishness of character.
The Seagull is a bravely modern interpretation of a play that with any lesser writer may have failed – but as with the many modern takes on the classic dramatic writers, the ingredients here work brilliantly due to the strengths of both the cast and the writer.
The Seagull runs until Saturday 1 December at:
Tel: 020 7407 0234
Evening shows start at 7.45pm and matinees at 3.15pm.