A Review by Polly Wittenberg
Chekhovï¿½s The Seagull, the second of the RSCï¿½s productions currently in residence at the BAM Harvey, is a domestic, pastoral drama with the various charactersï¿½even the dramatic ones like Arkadina the actress--chattering on about the enveloping boredom of life. It is the diametric opposite of King Lear which is royal and tension-filled from the opening scene.
In this RSC rendering, Christopher Oramï¿½s curving set has been fitted with a group of abeles and a small stage upon which Arkadinaï¿½s son Konstantin seeks to impress the assembled family members and staff with his playwriting prowess and with the talents of sparkling young Nina with whom he is enamored. Unfortunately, Konstantinï¿½s play provides only unintended laughs and Nina is more taken with the writer Trigorin, Arkadinaï¿½s lover, than she is with Konstantin.
The Seagull, which has scenes alternately and sometimes simultaneously inside and outside the crumbling country dacha, is difficult to stage. Recently the National Theatre in London had a production the involved windowed walls with the audience peering at scenes through one and sometimes two layers of glass to see what was going on. It was not a success. The set of a more recent London production at the small Royal Court theatre was mostly inside the dacha with some outside scenes confined to the apron of the stage. It worked. Director Trevor Nunnï¿½s staging here which involved moving the entire company on and off the stage at several points also worked well. And Nunn emphasized the humor of the piece more than is usual. Which was a good thing since this version of the play seemed to be note complete and, at 3ï¿½ hours, ran about ï¿½ hour longer than advertised.
What was most interesting to me about this production was seeing actors in contrasting roles from the ones they played Lear. One critic hit on Frances Barber for playing Arkadina the diva as ï¿½a cross between Norma Desmond and Elizabeth Taylor.ï¿½ Itï¿½s true and not bad. Arkadina is an Actress with a capital ï¿½Aï¿½ and Barber never leaves the audience in doubt that sheï¿½s determined to be the center of attention. As Konstantin, Richard Goulding, in his debut season with the RSC, was affecting. To me, the beautiful Romola Garai as Nina was too arch and went too heavy on the hand movements. I also found her speaking voice more than a bit shrill. Gerald Kyd as Trigorin was not as magnetic as that character is supposed to be. And, with his flowing hair and beard, I was quite disturbed about his resemblance to Rasputin. Ian McKellan provided the gem performance of the production in the relatively small role of Sorin, Arkadinaï¿½s brother and the owner of the dacha. Despite a truly ugly fright wig and top hat, Sir Ian managed to make donning his medals in the expectation of a trip to Moscow both funny and touching. That bit especially will be unforgettable.