First trip to the Arcola and it is a little gem of a theatre, one of those that punches above its weight. For all the fabulous big budget productions in the West End it is these tiny, slightly uncomfortable, off the beaten track theatres doing much with little and attracting great acting names that really get me excited.
But before this post turns into something purely about the Arcola and small theatres what of the play? Well The Seagull was also a first for me and it must have been good because otherwise I'd be moaning about the uncomfortable seats and its out-of-tube-station-reach location, right?
Ok so I may be a tad bit hypocritical but my point about my love of small theatres still stands and The Seagull was very good, despite my difficult relationship with Chekhov. I have a problem with stories about people who have it in their power to get themselves out of a mess but choose not to. It's purely a personal thing, every one has their bug-bear and this is mine. It spoils my enjoyment of the Cherry Orchard although I'm hoping that Zoe Wanamaker wins me over in the National's production in a few weeks.
It helps that the Seagull is tragic for different reasons. There is still a lot complaining from the middle-class characters about their lot in life but the central theme is love and success. Konstantin (Al Weaver) is a young aspiring playwright and son of a once successful actress Arkadina (Geraldine James) who has taken successful writer Trigorin (Matt Wilkinson) as her lover.
Arkadina wants always to be the star attraction which causes friction between her and Konstantin as she belittles his work. Trigorin's success does not help. Adding to Konstantin's woes is his love for Nina (Yolanda Kettle) who has her head and heart turned by Trigorin. And then there is poor Masha who is desperately in love with an uninterested Konstantin.
Al Weaver's Konstantin is at times bratish and petulant but with such an over-bearing and 'look-at-me' mother you can't help but feel sorry for him. James of course is a natural presence and a joy to watch. Must also mention Jodie McNee who is a delight as the spurned Masha which she plays with seething, bitter, resentfulness throughout.
The Seagull or Seagull as it's curiously called on the programme is engaging and a delight and certainly worth making the tube/bus journey over to East London. It's getting four stars from me.
This production is based on a new translation by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley who have reinstated original lines and some of the vernacular edited out by the censors of the day. Geraldine James talks about it in this interview on BBC News.
It runs until July 16.
Al Weaver shared the role of Hamlet with Mr W, taking on smaller parts in the production for the performances he wasn't playing Hamlet. There is one delicious moment in The Seagull where Arkadina quotes Hamlet to Konstantin:
"Hamlet! Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct"
To which he replies:
"Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stew'd in corruption..."
I'd love to have seen his Hamlet but that's as much as I'm ever going to get and equally I'd love to see Mr W's Konstantin at the National in 2006 but that might actually be possible thanks to the V&A archives when I finally get around to booking it.