Left – Honor Wolff. Photo – www.fenstarimages.com.au
A production of The Seagull embracing the comic elements of Chekhov’s play is always welcome. Black Apple Theatre have modernized The Seagull with a focus on the funny.
Director Cheyney Caddy said to think of her version of Chekhov’s play about art, parenting, ageing, love, longing and ennui, et al, as ‘fan fiction.’ For starters, there’s a terrific adaptation of the script here – it’s been judiciously pruned and the result is nicely compact and resolved.
The production employs a screen with animations as a backdrop while the action takes place in and around a metallic bus shelter reminiscent of constructionist art of the Soviet era. Although the play opens with videos of homophobic hate crimes in Russia, and we quickly see that Kostya is played as a girl, making the love triangle between she, Nina and Masha a lesbian one, the queering up of the Seagull is secondary to the story of the characters trapped in cages of their own egos, and of their respective journeys through quiet, and less quiet, despair.
Masha (Caitlin Lavery) acts out by tagging the walls of the bus shelter/ theatre, then we are introduced to the couple Arkandina (Eleanor Howlett), a fading actor, and Trigorin (Patrick Durnan), a famous writer, in a scene where they scrub the tagging away – moments of symbolism throughout make for small moments of poignancy. Durnan is especially good as Trigorin, well-matched by Eleanor Howlett as Arkadina playing a more groundedly and determined self-centred Arkandina than we might expect, so that the points in the story where she loses her dignity are painful to witness. An awkward moment is this pair’s shared moment of truth about their relationship, a moment in which the characters fail to consolidate their new understanding of each other in any meaningful way. You see all the characters responding to their own darkness in one another. Nina, played by Honor Wolff is particularly good, and although the script sees her ruined you get the sense she will survive, despite her destructive love for the selfish Tregorin. Tom Milton plays a fragile Sorin, coming into his own in the second half of the play.
Black Apple Theatre's production of The Seagull is a strong attempt and on the whole a successful one. But the comic moments are too clunkily signposted – the scene where Nina reads Kostya’s play especially. Eliott Gee is almost too buffoonish as the witless Medvedenko (he reminded me of Dave Hughes). The ending falls flat – it doesn’t work logistically with the tragic news of the finale lost on stage. However, none of this overly mars an enjoyable and engaging version of a classic.
Mention needs to be made of the original soundscape by Jess Keefe, an atmospheric addition via the composer on her cello accompanied by William Elm on accordion and Narty Banning on percussion.
Black Apple Theatre presents
by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Cheyney Caddy
Venue: Northcote Town Hall | West Wing Studio Two, 189 High Street, Northcote VIC
Dates: 2 – 7 February 2016
Part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival