Plot: Arkadina (Melanie Jessop), a successful and famous actress, is spending the summer on her brother Sorin’s (Ian McKellen) country estate, accompanied by her younger lover, a successful and famous novelist, Trigorin (Gerald Kyd). Her son, Konstantin (Richard Goulding), himself an aspiring writer, has written a play which is to be performed by Nina (Romola Garai), daughter of a neighbouring landowner, with whom he is rapturously in love. The performance mystifies the spectators and Konstantin is enraged by the frivolous attitude of his mother.
Masha (Monica Dolan), the daughter of the estate steward, Shamrayev (Guy Williams), is secretly in love with Konstantin, but she in turn is loved by Medvedenko (Ben Meyjes), the village schoolteacher. She confesses her feelings to Doctor Dorn (Jonathan Hyde), who himself has secretly been the lover of her mother, Polina (Naomi Capron).
Nina’s feeling for Trigorin changes from admiration to adoration. Konstantin, anguished by the withdrawal of Nina’s feeling for him attempts to commit suicide. Trigorin reciprocates Nina’s passion, and she decides to go to Moscow to become a professional actress. She and Trigori arrange to meet there. The visitors leave.
Two years pass. Everyone is back at the estate. Konstantin has achieved some of his literary ambitions. Masha and Medvedenko are married. Trigorin has resumed his relationship with Arkadina, having ended his affair with Nina, who is now a struggling actress touring the provinces. Nina returns briefly to the neighbourhood, and while the others are at supper, Nina and Konstantin meet again.
My first theater experience was Anton Chekhov‘s The Wedding, a one-act comedy performed by my college repertory in the late 90′s. I was among the few who accepted the free ticket being handed out to all students just happening to pass by and had their free time and as I made my way to the auditorium, I still had no idea who Anton Chekhov was.
Fast forward 17 years later, I am now at the West End, and was about to watch my second Anton Chekhov play, adapted by Trevor Nunn to be performed by the acting ensemble of the world class Royal Shakespeare Company, and I had such a wonderful time. Although my untrained appreciation for the arts was awakened short than a score ago, I am truly amazed and impressed by the talent this company has. It was also a night of understudies as Melanie Jessop took on the role of Arkadina and Naomi Capron as Polina, and can you actually totally tell that these fine performers were just mere understudies? No way, for they were as brilliant as you would hope them to be.
Romola Garai whom I first saw as the adult Briony in the tragic film Atonement was a revelation, she has an awkward sense of fragility and a luminous beauty that was necessary to breathe as Nina. She says with passion, I’m drawn here, like a seagull to the lake, whilst Richard Goulding’s brooding performance as Konstantin was touching and heartrending. Masha’s unrequited love to Konstantin is familiar, and explaining why she wears black all the time may seem sarcastic but ever so felt, ever so real. Ian McKellen as Sorin was not just mere comic relief as well as Jonathan Hyde’s Dr. Dorn who portrayed the epitomé of a Don Juan of the times.
After the performance, RSC’s Assistant Director Gemma Fairlie gave us the opportunity to have a Q&A forum with some of the actors, and what stayed with me was the fact that when they were asked as to which crowd during their world tour proved to be difficult to please, the actors all felt that they had to work much harder to their London audience, and I really don’t know where that came from!
It had been such a great experience and I can’t wait to come back within a fortnight to catch William Shakespeare‘s King Lear.
The Seagull: 4/5
Playing at the New London Theatre until 12 January 08.