Saturday, 29 April 2017

Chekhov's Seagull at the Mary Wallace Theatre

By the end of the first act, my companion was asleep. I, however, was moved nearly to tears by Rachel Burnham's Masha, expressing the misery of her unrequited love for Konstantin, who loved Nina, who loved Trigorin, who loved no one but himself. I had not expected at all to be moved so early in the play and indeed had a fair idea of what the characters would say and do. I suspect however that as one gets older one's waterworks in more ways than one, become rather more loosened. Masha was played as a sulky teenager with depth, and perhaps I was moved by this because it reminded me of my self-image then of being a sulky teenager with depth as well as all a lifetime's accumulation of unrequited loves. It was as if the totality of that misery was conveyed in that short speech by Masha to Eugene.

When my companion awakened and stayed awake to enjoy the second half, he declared that he could smell the vodka that Masha was drinking in the drunk scene.

Having recently seen The Cherry Orchard at the Arcola, my interest in Chekhov was whetted and revived. One of the pleasures of his characters is that they are real, flawed and always have something interesting to say about life. One can identify in turn with all the characters from the insolent servant, the exasperated estate manager, the adulterous wife, the rejected dullard of a husband, the miserly actress, the despondent owner who is about to die and regrets not having tried harder to achieve success, the doctor who complains that his time is never his own, to the ruined woman who ran away to Moscow with the writer who loved no one but himself and finally the rejected lover.

This is a hugely enjoyable production with an excellent cast. Sorin I thought could have been a little less spry and animated, since he is supposed to be ill.

The fresh young, pretty, long-limbed and graceful Nina (Magdalena Jablonska) played youth very well. She is still doing her A levels. Understandably she did not quite convey the transformation of being pumped and dumped by an older man, being the mother of a baby that did not survive nfancy, being disowned by her parents, and looked just as pretty, fresh-faced and youthful after all this was supposed to have happened to her, her hair still looking like a shampoo advertisement. Two streaks of tears down her cheeks was intended to convey this interval of disappointment and disaster, but I thought a good spray of water to her hair to make it look at least greasy and unkempt when she was obviously meant to be near a nervous breakdown, would have gone some way to making up for any lack of experienced misery to artfully convey her transformation in demeanour and voice.

Not having read as I had, my companion found the ending a shock and pronounced it "terrible", presumably because it made life seem meaningless.

What is the moral of this story?

Konstantin had more promise than Nina, but he destroyed himself. Nina was a mediocre actress, but lived on declaring that it is the purpose of life to endure, even when aware of our own irredeemable mediocrity, rather than to destroy ourselves because others do not sufficiently acknowledge how special and clever we are.

Try not to miss it, because tonight is your last chance.

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