Review: The Seagull

Moving, thrilling and breathtaking – The Seagull is an utter triumph

If there’s anyone who knows how to write a play that involves multiple messy romantic relationships, moments that question art and life itself, and pure, heart-wrenching drama, it’s Anton Chekhov. But a fantastic text requires equally brilliant minds to bring the drama to life, and director Mimi Pattinson with assistant director Eoin McCaul has surpassed all expectations in creating a true masterpiece.

Following the romantic and artistic tensions between the four main characters, The Seagull is about more than just unrequited love (though the number of love triangles would suggest otherwise); heartbreak is derived from not only the cruelty of lovers, but also unfulfilled potential, forgotten dreams and the tragedy of coincidence and fate. It is an understatement to say that the audience was constantly on the edge of their seats, a feat made possible due to the hard work of one of the biggest production teams I’ve seen come together for a show.

Image credits: Charlotte Conybeare

The wonderful set design (Tungsten Tang) added to an almost ethereal atmosphere, which made me feel like the play’s events don’t take place at any other time than at dawn or twilight, the most elusive and dreamy hours, created by some really effective and lovely gradient lighting (Gwendolen Sellers). The fragmented, simplistic and yet somehow simultaneously detailed and complex aspects of the set design added to this sense that we are seeing the world through a writer’s eyes.

And of course, attention must be given to the ‘real’ lake, which was incorporated an absolutely perfect amount of times so that it never felt like a gimmick or like it was overused for the sake of it. In fact, it fits in so naturally with the rest of the set, creating some incredible lighting effects, that I can hardly imagine the theatre without it now.

Image credits: Charlotte Conybeare

I have to brace myself for coming to praise the cast of this play, as I fear that I will simply run out of adjectives that will fully convey the absolute brilliance that was witnessed onstage last night. And if words are not enough evidence, I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t really stop crying until climbing all the way down the stairs into the bar.

While so many aspects of this play were praise-worthy, it felt like the entire audience was holding their breath during the final act, which seemed to grow in tension so much that it became entirely unbearable until its inevitable conclusion, which offered no relief in its utter tragedy. Moments of silence were also particularly well-devised alongside some lovely sound design (Ness Lam).

An absolutely standout performance came from Eirlys Lovell-Jones as Arkadina, whose hilariously sarcastic quips were as cutting as her vulnerable moments were agonising. The nuance and style with which she seamlessly moved from begging Trigorin to stay to a feigned nonchalance speak not only of Arkadina’s supreme talent as an actress, but also Eirlys’ herself, who gave one of the most distinguished performances seen at the ADC.

This was matched perfectly by the sensitivity with which Ollie Flowers played the role of her son, Konstantin. He seems born to play this role, embodying a melancholy that matches the inexorable tragedy of the play; everything he wants is always just out of reach. This pairing was extremely emotive, contrasting moments of deep filial and borderline oedipal love with heart-wrenching conflict – it makes you wonder if there is even any real love left in this play, or if it is simply obsession.

Image credits: Charlotte Conybeare

An equally magnificent performance is given by the wonderful Emma Dawes as Nina. Emma perfectly encapsulates Nina’s progression from innocence into the corruption of the city, managing to maintain a constant admirability throughout which absolutely charmed the audience, perhaps as a result of her good nature. She also portrays however some impressive moments of manipulation, resulting in the fact that we don’t know whether we’re supposed to pity or scorn her.

And perhaps the king of mixed emotions is Jacob Benhayoun as Trigorin, whose expertly-conveyed initial charms and elusiveness are swiftly undermined by his destructive tendencies. He portrayed perhaps the most convincing character in accurately exposing the conceit and aloofness of a writer with the fact that he is, despite a sensitive writer’s disposition, quite cruel. As the catalyst for the majority of heartbreak in this play, the pair’s chemistry is undeniable, not only with each other in moving conversations, but also seen with how they each adapt to their respective admirers and lovers.

Image credits: Charlotte Conybeare

And emotive performances were not spared in any of the other supporting relationships either, with the effect that the audience was equally consistently invested in each individual character’s arc. Opening the play, Ebenezer Boakye and Irisa Kwok‘s relationship as Medvedenko and Masha is painfully disastrous, almost laughably so, as Ebenezer’s well-portrayed concerns with finances and logistics combined with his love for Masha contrasts her hidden unrequited love for Konstantin and general pessimism to great effect. Illuminating monologues were given by Liam Macmillan, who shines gently amidst the big dramas of the main four, and hilarity and despair are brilliantly combined in Imogen Gray‘s Polina.

While we’re on the topic of hilarity, Isaac Jackson absolutely stole the show with the most accurate and effortlessly funny portrayal of the old Sorin, allowing deeper emotions to pervade his character towards the end of the play too – but in general, he provided much-needed comic relief to ease heightening tensions. This was also the case for Joe Orrell‘s Shamrayev, whose monotonous monologuing despite the groans of the others was almost too funny to bear. And even when moving props, Emery Glas and Lizzie Banner never broke character to create some really funny moments in the tiniest and most detailed ways, stealing some cheeky one-liners to lift spirits.

I honestly do not have enough praise to give this show, and it was the easiest five stars I have ever given. Not only was it perfect in its execution and successful in moving the audience in every emotional sense, but it excels consistently from every moment of silence to every crescendo of emotion. It doesn’t rely on a big spectacle or melodrama to capture an audience, rather its integrity derives from the naturalistic actors and set, which really speaks for itself when performed successfully and passionately.

The seagull may be shot dead at the start, but The Seagull as a production is very much alive and one of the most moving translations of real life onto a stage that I have ever seen.


The Seagull is showing from the 16th-20th of May at the ADC Theatre at 7:30 pm. Book your tickets here.

Feature Image Credit: Charlotte Conybeare

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