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The Seagull

The Seagull at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton The Seagull at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This new production of Chekhov’s engrossing drama celebrates the play’s 120th anniversary with a new translation by contemporary playwright Torben Betts. Betts has already developed a fine reputation for works such as Muswell Hill or more recently Invincible and the astute social realism of both resonates through this latest commission.

Betts amplifies Chekhov’s ubiquitous subtext to further expose the petty cruelties, preoccupations and raging egoism within this landmark ensemble piece while also rendering it surprisingly contemporary. Alex Robertson’s Trigorin confesses an inability to live in the moment that seems particularly indicative of modern life as he struggles to record every idea and image that crosses his path. Everybody ignoring the dull teacher Medvedenko has recognisable comic value too, but it also highlights the tragedy of a play where so much is said but nobody seems to be listening to one another.

Chekhov gives Arkadina a glorious foreshadowing in the opening scenes and Janie Dee doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fairly ruthless role but Dee tempers this with the gleeful mischief of a spoiled child constantly craving attention, despite the emotional needs of Matthew Tennyson’s desperately damaged Konstantin.

Where Betts’ translation is a qualified success, Matthew Dunster’s direction seems less assured. Cinematic conceits such as voice-overs muddy the theatrical waters slightly and his deeply melodramatic ending seems out of sorts with the mood of the play. Jon Bausor’s otherwise impressive extension on Regent’s Park’s permanent glade is also confused by a vast gimmicky mirror that draws focus more often than it should.

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A remarkably accessible translation supported by engaging performances but subject to some questionable choices from the director and designer
Paul Vale
Paul has been writing for The Stage since 1998 as a critic and feature writer. He is also part of The Stage's Edinburgh Fringe review team.