Reviewer Peter Wilkins
Photographs by Shane Reid
Geordie Brookman’s production of The Seagull for the State Theatre of South Australia dazzles with its blinding clarity. Chekov’s world of characters caught within the confines of their circumstance is captured with such insight, such immediacy and such universal recognition of the complexities of the human condition that it startles with its contemporary relevance.
Chekov’s tragicomedy about a young country girl, Nina, played by Lucy Fry, who is destroyed by her infatuation with the famous, self –obsessed writer, Trigorin ( Renato Musolino) transcends time to etch the fate of rural pre- Russian Revolution community firmly into our twenty first century consciousness. Brookman’s production brings Chekov’s characters forward to the middle of the twentieth century, but Ailsa Paterson’s 1950’s costuming still retains the flavour of the fashion of the late nineteenth century, thus lending the production and the characters a timeless quality. The use of popular songs, played by the doleful Medvedenko (Matthew Gregan) though anachronistic to the ear enables a modern audience to reflect on the sorry state of the lonely, the unfulfilled and the inconspicuous. There was a moment of utter pathos when Medvedenko is about to venture alone into the snow for the long walk home that I could have imagined Cellophane Man from Chicago playing in my mind. Such is the power of this interpretation to strike a resounding chord of relevance.
Set and lighting designer Geoff Cobham realises with stunning effect Brookman’s desire to involve his audience utterly in every moment, every nuance, every familiar resonance of this brilliant production.
I have only ever seen The Seagull played out upon a proscenium stage or at least front on to an audience. Brookman has decided to play the production on a traverse stage in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s black box theatre, The Space. Audience sit on either side, completely absorbed in the action that happens between them. Characters retreat when not in the action to a caged living room setting above and alongside the seating and in full view of an audience. Our engagement is inescapable.
Our identification immediate and impactful. We are drawn inexorably into the very hearts and minds of real people, living out their real lives and coming to terms with the real challenges of their circumstance. We share their humanity in a thrilling state of compassion and reaction. Hilary Bell’s adaptation breathes contemporary life into every word and action of Chekov’s characters. Certain servant characters have been abandoned, giving more scope to the roles of such characters as Masha’s parents, Shamrayev (Chris Pitman) and Polina (Lizzy Faulkland). There is an economy of theatrical force that dispels distraction or superfluity and allows actors and audience to share a clarity of motive and response. Yet again, in performance, adaptation and direction, The Seagull becomes a play for our time and for a world entrapped by the impotence of disarmed will.
The Seagull is a play about longing, about love and about a society, bound by the traditions and mores of the past. Its origin upon Stanislavski’s stage was one of challenge, risk, daring, confrontation and innovation. Brookman too shakes off the shackles of expectation and complacency. His actors draw us into their world with such conviction that we are riveted by their performances and completely involved in every moment of their lives.
Nor does the company subject an audience to the two dimensionality of the characters, but rather exposes a complexity that compels their behaviour and powerlessness to change. The characters come to life with the forcefulness of their passion (Rosalba Clemente’s larger than life Arkadina), one moment shrieking with theatrical histrionics, the next cradling her tormented son; the frustration of their inertia (Paul Blackwell’s Sorin), the desperation of their longing (Matilda Bailey’s Masha), the stoicism of their tradition (Chris Pitman’s Shamrayev), the equilibrium of their reason(Terence Crawford’s Doctor Dorn), the self-doubting agony of their ambition (Xavier Samuel’s Konstantin), the self-indulgent egocentricity (Musolino’s Trigorin), the gullible victim of incomprehensible natural forces (Fry’s Nina) and the victim of social stereotyping (Lizzy Faulkland’s Polina)
The Seagull is an actor’s drama, played out to hold the mirror up to nature with truth and prophetic vision. This State Theatre of South Australia production under the inspired and intelligent direction of Artistic Director Geordie Brookman has created a Seagull for all time.
It is regrettable that this production cannot be seen throughout the nation. It deserves the recognition that NT Live has given to the productions of England’s National Theatre, and those who saw the production during the Adelaide Festival of Arts can count themselves fortunate to have seen a Seagull of which Chekov and Stanislavski would have been proud.