My mum would sometimes ask me, when I was visiting, what I had seen at the theatre and I remember one time mentioning 'Hamlet again' to which her response was 'surely you know the story by now?'. I tried then to explain the appeal of that play, its many layers and different interpretations that made every new production a draw.
The Seagull is rapidly becoming 'a Hamlet' in that after seeing just two productions, this latest at the Southwark Playhouse, I could quite happily go and see another version tomorrow, should there be one to see.
I'm not familiar enough with the more traditional translations of Chekhov's play to judge how much artistic licence playwright Anya Reiss's has taken in her 'version' so I can only judge on how believable and natural the dialogue sounded and on both points it gets the thumbs up.
In fact, the modern dialogue worked perfectly within the modern setting. Konstantin (Joseph Drake) writes on a laptop, Arkadina (Sasha Waddell) can't get a signal on her mobile and Masha (Emily Dobbs) plays music on her iPod, dresses Goth-like and smokes spliffs.
The only time it doesn't quite work is in explaining why Nina's father doesn't like her hanging around Arkadina and her 'bohemian' friends, a prejudice that seems outdated. Perhaps if the actress and her hangers on had themselves been enjoying illicit substances it might have been more understandable.
Drake's Konstantin feels like a youth overwhelmed by his feelings and at a loss as to how to articulate them instead choosing gestures that are as symbolic as the plays he writes. When he presents Nina with the dead seagull its as if he himself doesn't understand quite why he's done it, that it seemed appropriate and right when the idea was in his head. It was good performance although I don't think I've quite seen a real knock-your-socks off Konstantin yet. Another reason to see more productions.
Lily James' Nina was effervescent, enthusiastic and earnest but with youthful naivety and I could quite believe how Trigorin (Anthony Howell) the introspective, famous writer would have his head turned by her but then equally grow tired of her company.
The performance for me was Waddell's Arkadina. There was a lovely awkwardness to her manner when she was trying to mother her son as if unused to allowing someone else to be truly the centre of attention.
This production of The Seagull, felt fresh and fast paced and succeeded in raising a few laughs as well as a few inappropriately loud guffaws. Indeed it was an evening of inappropriately loud reactions although I like to think it was a member of the playhouse production team acting as a prompt, by applauding rapidly the very moment the lights went down at the interval and final curtain.
Although displaying great talent at a young age with Spur of the Moment, I felt there was a naivety to Anya Reiss' debut play at the Royal Court but this 'version' of a classic shows maturity and talent way beyond her years.
The Seagull runs at the Southwark Playhouse until December 1.
Production photo: Donald Cooper