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The Seagull at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 26th Jun 2015 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

 

 

 

The Seagull begins as Peter Sorin’s guests assemble for an avant-garde open air play written by Konstantin Trepliov, Sorin’s nephew and son of the famous but fading actress Irina Arkadina.

 

On the night I was there the timing was perfect. As the eager and enthusiastic Konstantin announces that the play has to begin at sunset, the sun sank behind the trees surrounding Regent’s Park’s open air stage; not the only perfect thing about this production.

 

As with all four of Anton Chekov’s great plays, The Seagull takes place on a country estate, so where better to stage it than in the middle of a park, especially with designer Jon Bausor’s imaginative set complete with lawn, shrubbery and pool.

 

Add to that a huge mirror suspended above the stage, from which rain cascades in torrents towards the end of the play, and Christopher Shutt’s terrifyingly dramatic soundscape, and this is an impressive production even before there is any mention of the excellent cast.

 

Regent’s Park commissioned award-winning playwright Torben Betts to write this new version to mark the play’s 120th anniversary and it certainly brings Chekov kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

 

The elegance of that era is still very much in evidence, thanks to the beautiful, in-house costumes, but phrases like ‘decadent claptrap’, ‘bloody tedious’ and other contemporary words I cannot mention in print, certainly brings the dialogue up-to-date, while the romantic jealousies, self-doubting and ruthless pursuit of happiness, which are at the core of the play, are so much part of modern day living.

 

While the cast includes such celebrated actors as Janie Dee, Ian Redford and Danny Webb, this is very much an ensemble piece and everyone should be congratulated, not least the hard-working servants, played by Belgian choreographer, movement artist and performer Tara O’Arquian, and Tom Greaves, whose parts require them, among other things, to garden, dust from the top of a ladder and, most impressively, swim naked in the pool!

 

The play is set on Peter Sorin’s estate and, as the ailing landowner, Ian Redford has tremendous gravitas.

 

Sabrina Bartlett, recently seen as Karen Daniel in BBC’s Poldark, as Nina, his young neighbour, is bewitching and refreshingly childlike, full of enthusiasm and energy, while in stark contrast, Lisa Diveney (Julia Masterson in Call the Midwife) as Masha, the estate manager’s daughter, does a magnificent job of playing a vodka swilling, snuff snorting (or is it cocaine?) feisty consumptive, and cruel wife to the pathetic teacher Simon Medviedenko - described as having ‘all the charisma of a stuffed corpse’ - played with great empathy by Colin Hoult.

 

Masha is not the only cruel character. Janie Dee is a real diva as ageing actress Irina Arkadina, loving the attention as she swans across the stage with her posturing young lover, writer Boris Trigorin (Alex Robertson), while hurling insults at her sensitive son, played with youthful exuberance by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s great-great-great-grandson, award-winning actor Matthew Tennyson. But the scene between mother and son after his attempted suicide is most moving and shows another, little revealed, side to Irina’s character and gives extra depth to the play, though the descent into a screaming match between the two runs the gamut of emotions.

 

Director Matthew Dunster’s powerful production is bursting with crossed lovers, raw emotions and tormented souls ending in an extraordinary final scene – a must see!

 

The Seagull continues at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until July 11.

 

Box Office: 0844 826 4242

 

Online Bookings: www.openairtheatre.com

 

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