HAVING A LAUGH WITH CHEKHOV
THE SEAGULL Queensland Theatre Company/ Brisbane Festival Venue: Bille Brown Studio South Brisbane, until September 26 Reviewed: September 3 Reviewer: James Harper
SOME critics have suggested that the symbolic imagery provided by the dead bird in Anton Chekhov’s play The
Seagull is a bit obscure, and only tangential to the play’s larger complexities of plot, theme and character.
In Daniel Evans’s energetic adaptation of The Seagull for QTC, said bird is much more prominent – in fact it has a speaking role, with a nice line in sarcastic one-liners delivered in a ham Russian accent.
If the Queensland theatre industry’s Matilda Awards have a category for Best Performance by a Stuffed Seabird, then we definitely have a candidate.
Indeed one-liners are a large part of what drives this updated, Aussie-fied reworking of Chekhov’s classic, full of pop culture references, theatrical jokes and postmodernist multi-layering.
One major theme that fits the contemporary mood perfectly is the conflict between flamboyant actor Irina (Christen O’Leary) and her son Konstantin (Nicholas Gell).
He maintains that theatre is dead and irrelevant, something new, raw and revolutionary is needed.
She mocks his understanding of theatrical craft and says his revolution has been done to death countless times before.
Peppered with arch references to Home and Away, Wicked and Cate Blanchett, this strand of the play resonates perfectly for a modern audience.
Other aspects, mostly to do with the complexities within the characters and their relationships, fare less well.
Chekhov’s characters are famously ambiguous, no-one is all good or all bad, everyone has their moments.
Life is both mundane and miraculous; despair can be balanced with compassion.
Not much of this humanistic vision survives its meta- morphosis via Evans’s exuberant repartee.
It’s a social media, stand-up comedy Seagull – the jokes come thick and fast, the emotional conflict is extravagant and unsubtle.
Most of the characters come out as cliches and, in the case of the secondary parts – household member Masha, estate manager Ilya – it takes a while to work out the exact nature of their relationships to everyone else in the story.
There seems to have been a fair bit of typecasting, with several performers revisiting particular schticks – drunken diva, weird girl, nerd – that they have become strongly associated with in their careers to date.
One exception is Brian Lucas, who gives a nuanced performance as the terminally ill landowner Sorin.
In a significant departure from the original, he is a rather animated, anarchic figure.
Much is made of his slow decline, more convincingly tragic than the forced histrionics that characterise most of the other depictions of fraught relationships in the production.