04 March 2014

Taking flight

"It isn't about fame… It's about enduring, about bearing your cross," says the young actress Nina, played by the young actress Sophie Robinson, and indeed Library Theatre's production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull is all about fame lost and found through acting and writing: "We all need the theatre, we couldn't live without it", we're told from the offset.

We meet a lauded writer, Boris Trigorin (played by Graeme Hawley), who is constantly jotting things down in a notebook but who scoffs at his own work and fails to see what all the fuss is about: "I'm a citizen, a person, I should write about the troubles of the world… I should write something important." He is dating Arkadina (Susie Trayling), a washed-up leading lady who misses the limelight and now has to resort to basking in the glow of her boyfriend's glory. Her son Konstantin (Ben Allen, pictured; photo by Jonathan Keenan) is a troubled playwright (and a slightly camp hipster, with his sarcastic "well done, her" interjections), who puts on a performance for the friends and family he is surrounded by at his uncle Sorin's country house. The one-hander with Nina in the starring role, put on the pedestal of the makeshift platform in the garden by love-sick Konstantin, receives generally poor reviews from the on-stage audience (sat with their backs to the real auditorium audience, hence creating a feeling that we are all in it together - it is a terrible show). Arkadina's shriek of "I'm not going to sit through that gibberish, experimental nonsense" is met by the doctor's rather comical retort: "God, you really are all so dramatic."

Some of the lines seemed to be played for laughs, which I'm not sure the author would have intended, and others felt like all the life had been sucked out of them. Meanwhile, any drama there had been (it is Chekhov, after all) in the first half became even more watered down in the second, with a couple of scenes featuring all the cast on stage at the same time but most of them, save Konstantin and Doctor Dorn (Christopher Wright) and then Konstantin and Trigorin, doing nothing. Absolutely nothing: not pretending to chat and drink or play cards or look out of the window at the lake view; nothing. It's like they've forgotten to act or haven't been given any direction, which seems odd as it's a Chris Honer production; the last from the experienced Artisic Director for Library Theatre, before Walter Meierjohann takes over for the birth of HOME, cut-and-shutting Library with Cornerhouse. In fact, some of the characters throughout came across as lacklustre - Medvedenko, Masha and Polina, for example, although this could be down to them merely serving as plot devices to facilitate the various, slightly excrutiating love triangles. In stark contrast, however, the estate manager Shamrayev (played by David Crelin, latterly Coronation Street's Colin Fishwick) is loud and proud, but the lack of consistency overall is unconvincing.

The reworking of Chekhov's play by Anya Reiss obviously brings it up to date for a modern audience, and there are some nice touches, such as the eponymous bird being presented in a Sainsbury's Bag For Life and Konstantin pouring water over his laptop so it blows up and he loses all his work (presumably in the original, he sets fire to his typed manuscript; I don't know). Less convincing were the costumes, which looked largely as if they had been sourced in Primark or Oxfam, and, other than perhaps Shamrayev and the old man Sorin (Peter Macqueen) with their country tweeds, seemed way off the mark for some of the characters, particularly the supposedly sophisticated arty types on holiday from the city.

So back to the writing aspect. "What's it like to read about yourself?" Nina asks Boris. His reply? "When they're nice, it's nice, and when they're not, it's not." Hopefully the words written here err more towards the former.

The Seagull continues until Saturday at The Lowry in Salford Quays. Evening performances Tuesday to Saturday inclusive start at 7.15pm. Thursday matinee is at 2pm and Saturday matinee is at 2.30pm. Click here to book tickets.

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