Russian culture is synonymous with highly intellectual literature and equally strong alcohol, so the decision to stage The Seagull at the Pack and Carriage pub was an inspired one.
The Seagull was written by Chekhov in the closing years of the 18th Century, and serves as a window into the relationships of the ensemble cast, while subtly describing the attitudes of Russian society at the time.
Directed by Vince Gill, the plot follows an eccentric young playwright, Konstantin and his overbearing mother, the famous actress Arkadina who are staying at her brother’s country estate.
Following the interactions of the household staff and guests, the plot becomes a tale of unrequited love and frustrated creativity, interspersed with moments of levity.
Choosing to stage this rather compact performance in the main parlour of the Pack and Carriage pub adds a real sense of intimacy to the performance, as though the audience are truly intruding on the cast’s private conversations.
The play is still quite early on into its run, and there are times when becomes noticeable, mainly a few lines that required a second attempt. That being said, for a relatively inexperienced cast, their performance was most impressive.
The relationship between Arkadina, played by Helen Rose-Hampton, and her son Konstantin, played by Anton Thompson-McCormick is truly enjoyable to watch.
Arkadina’s haughty and domineering persona set against Konstantin’s piqued angst makes for excellent confrontation, though it hides the warmth they both feel for each other.
Rose-Hampton portrays Arkadina as the sort of ageing starlet that sadly doesn’t seem to exist anymore, confident in her success while despairing of her seemingly shiftless son.
McCormick’s Konstantin while a more gentle and eccentric soul, is clearly his mother’s son, a fact which becomes readily apparent when he chooses to make his disdain known.
His portrayal of a young man who simply wants to be taken seriously, yet is faced with ridicule by those closest to him is such a common theme that it resonates on many levels.
Besides the conflict between mother and son there is the great web of affections between the wider ensemble cast, including Konstantin’s perceives intellectual rival, the novelist Trigorin.
Played by John Jesper, Trigorin is ostensibly staying at the estate with Arkadina, though as time passes he begins to seduce Nina, the object of Konstantin’s affections.
Jesper brings tremendous stage presence to the role of Trigorin, his demeanour alone giving a great deal away as to the nature of the character. While his delivery is strong I feel that it takes the first act before the two are equally effective.
Nina, played by Hannah Hawkins, has a waif-like innocence about her, which combined with her infatuation for Trigorin is a driving force throughout the play, up to and including the performances climax.
Finally there is the sad tale of the stoic Masha, played by Mina Renoir, whose unrequited love for Konstantin remains unrealised, leaving her to settle on a less preferable option.
The wider ensemble are key in understanding the wider motivations and backgrounds of the central cast, fleshing out already realised characters until they feel almost familiar.
Special mention must go to Dr Dorn, played by Emmanuel Koustsis, who is a joy to behold whenever he is onstage.
His warm and genial demeanour are showcased by a tendency to burst into song and his lone support for Konstantin’s early endeavours.
For someone who is not overtly familiar with Russian theatre and literature, I initially sat down to The Seagull with a sense that I may be in over my head.
However, unlike the unfortunate sea bird that Konstantin hangs above the bar, The Seagull is far from dead on arrival, and while it may need a bit of a polish in parts it cannot fail to charm its audience.
The Seagull is running at the Pack and Carriage on Eversholt Street, a short walk from Euston Station, every Sunday and Monday until April 26th.
Pack and Carriage image courtesy of Ewan Munro via Flickr. Press photos courtesy of Vince Gill