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Review: Making Konstantin conspicuous in his absence in The Seagull, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

Joshua James and Anna Chancellor in The Seagull. Photo Johan Persson.

Chekhov's Hamlet obsession is most evident in The Seagull, not just from the direct references but also in the triangle of mother-son-uncle or in this case mother's new lover; it is probably why it is one of my favourites.

There is no murdering to get ahead instead the oppression is more subtle. We have a self-obsessed actress mother - Arkadina (Anna Chancellor) who has to be the centre of attention and her lover Trigorin (Geoffrey Streatfeild) a famous novelist who is equally self-centred. Brought up always at the side of the stage looking on, Konstantin (Joshua James) Arkadina's son has identity issues and thinks becoming a successful writer will solve it.

He has a germ of writing talent but is deaf to the few compliments he receives instead he grows jealous of Trigorin and resentful.  To make matters worse the object of his affection - Nina (Olivia Vinall) - only has eyes for the older writer. Meanwhile Masha (Jade Williams) just can't seem to catch Konstantin's eye. He has no money to escape the family's secluded lakeside home and his mother won't help or is incapable of helping.

It would be easy to play Konstantin purely as a melancholy and whiny youth but Joshua James succeeds in showing glimmers of a bubblier side which his mother inadvertently tramples. There is also a balancing act in portraying a character who is often overlooked by most of those around him without making him forgettable. You notice James and miss him when he is gone although you don't always notice him leaving or arriving on the stage - perhaps mirroring how he flits in and out of his mother's consciousness.

Anna Chancellor's Arkadina is ambiguous in that you can never quite tell if she is blind to her behaviour or if it is calculated to keep Konstantin in the shadows. Geoffrey Streatfeild's plays Trigorin as the suffering artist who is oblivious to the suffering of others. He isn't overtly melodramatic instead he quietly drifts wherever is most advantageous.

There is a bitter irony in the final scene that as the adults all enjoy a lively dinner the consequences of their actions, on the lives of the youngster is laid brutally bare. I'm going to give The Seagull four and a half stars.

It is two and a half hours long including an interval and you can see The Seagull as part of a three play day or as an individual play at the National Theatre until Oct 8.