Preview: The Seagull

An ambitious rendition with great technical scale, and a very emotional and raw core.

Chevkov’s The Seagull is very frequently seen in the British theatre space, having had a run at the national theatre last year, in 2016 and at the Old Vic in 2017. The Tab sat down with Director Mimi Pattinson, Assistant Director Eoin McCaul and Technical Director Hugh Bowers to discuss why this version of the Seagull will knock the socks off of the ADC theatregoer.

“I thought it felt very kind of relevant to where we are now as a culture,” Pattinson said when describing why she wanted to put on the play. She emphasised how the “relationship between desire and domination, and the way it relates to women and the natural world feels very resonant.” The impact such theming has on a student audience was also something Pattinson was key to bring up, not only through how the themes themselves fit many student’s contemporary discussions, but also how the meta themes around art and the desire to become extraordinary “feels very Oxbridge core”, allowing the play to feel even more poignant for the many potential future Konstantin’s who might be somewhere in the audience.

Even despite the show’s strong period setting, Pattinson has felt that it is still one with a fairly modern feeling. “It’s a play about things we weren’t able to talk about, sex – sadomasochism, which we now can do, so it kind of feels fresh in that way.” Pattinson also emphasised how through rehearsal they tried to ensure the cast felt “present in the text” rather than forcing them to think in the period. “I tried to emphasise that the minute people start acting period it creates a sense of detachment from the show, and we wanted to make sure that the emotional stories felt visceral, and the audience didn’t sit there dryly and think about the themes.”

Jacob Benhayoun as Trigorin with Eirlys Lovell-Jones as Arkadina [credit: Charlotte Conybeare]

It was hard to talk about the seagull and not talk about its extremely intermingled web of relationships. When speaking about how this team decided to try and tackle this, McCaul mentioned how when considering the various relationships, there was a key effort to distinguish the relationship between Arkardina (Eirlys Lovell-Jones) and Boris (Jacob Benhayoun) as well as that of Konstantin (Ollie Flowers) and Nina (Emma Dawes) as well as trying to make distinct “what it means to love at a younger age versus loving a good few decades older, and how that love can grow to become more physical or sensual, and how having many loves changes how you interact with a person.” This evolution of love through time was something that was clearly on the mind of both Pattinson and McCaul, from looking at imagined futures through the eyes of Dawes’ Nina, and how individuals retell and recontextualise their own love stories.

Speaking further to Dawes about how she has found embodying Nina, when auditioning, she felt “it sounded like an incredible opportunity, and I wanted to do something different this term, and on meeting Mimi and Eoin the way that they were directing me I felt they were really passionate about this production and were amazing to work with.” On building this character following on from the audition, Dawes talks about her initial fears of being typecast as a “young naive spirited woman,” but over the course of the play, shows development.

“I stopped seeing Nina as some kind of trope or cliche, and instead as a breathing, alive character, which was really amazing, and something I could bring a lot of myself to which you couldn’t when Nina was nothing more than trope or cliche.” The complexities which Nina provides were also something which excited Dawes, describing her as “very truthful and complex, something which male writers traditionally struggle with, I don’t know if Chekov nails it, but the way in which she speaks and the choices she makes are very human and even cruel at points, something which can be missed by a lot of male writers.”

Ollie Flowers as Konstantin with Emma Dawes as Nina [Credit: Charlotte Conybeare]

Going beyond the acting and the directorial choices of the production itself, anyone who has been around the Cambridge theatre scene this term has heard something about the Seagull’s technical plans. In particular, their decision to include a massive lake on the ADC forestage.

When discussing this further with Bowers, he joked that “over the past few days I have had several emails about how this is a bad idea even if I won’t discourage you from doing this.” “The initial idea was to have basins of water surrounding a ‘pier’ so I thought why not just make it actual water, leading me down an engineering rabbit hole. Though the whole process has been very rewarding as there has not been anything like this on the ADC stage for a while, and for this show I think it has really been worth the effort.”

Going beyond the massive lake (if you can somehow draw your attention away from it), Bowers also highlighted some other interesting set elements he utilised, such as creating a forest through a wall of suspended tree branches. “I had to source (scavenge) these recently, creating this wall of trees against the dark sky to help create the outdoor setting. But to help create a distinction between the inside and outside settings, our set designer (Tungsten Tang) came up with the idea that we should have descending roof beams to create the feeling of being inside a home, helping to distinguish from the Russian wilderness.”

For the lead-up to the peak of exam season, it feels slightly ironic to head down to the ADC to watch a show about failure in your passions. However, from the scale of ambition in the technical elements, to the strong emphasis on bringing out the modern themes through its period context, and the emotional core of the confusing and enthralling relationships throughout the play, there is a lot to be talking about with this rendition of The Seagull, and I look forward to seeing it shine throughout its run at the ADC.

The Seagull is on at the ADC at 7:30 pm from Tuesday 16th of May until Saturday 20th of May. Get your tickets here!

Feature image credits: Charlotte Conybeare

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