Indira Varma and Daniel Monks impress in this visually arresting version of The Seagull at Harold Pinter Theatre, even if the production ultimately leaves me cold
“All speeches, no action”
There’s something midly ironic in me craving a director to do something different with The Seagull and then having seen Jamie Lloyd’s iconoclastic production, thinking ‘not quite like that’. To be sure, there’s something fantastic about the clout he wields that such an adventurous take on a classic can be mounted in a West End theatre in this day and age (albeit aided by the casting of someone like Emilia Clarke) and for that we should all be grateful.
Anya Reiss’ adaptation of Chekhov’s play, allied with Lloyd’s directorial vision, strips things back right to bare bones. Soutra Gilmour’s set is austerity itself, a shipping crate from which the company of 10 never leave. And miked-up, the actors are allowed to indulge in murmured naturalism in their delivery as freed from the usual theatrical artifice, the stage is set for them to focus anew on the tangled relationships of these well-worn characters.
It kinda comes off, for the most part. In the more impactful roles, the likes of Indira Varma and Daniel Monks excel as Arkadina and Konstantin, each probing at the ennui that pulls at their lives. But Lloyd is uncompromising in his aesthetic and over the not-inconsiderable running time, there’s an occasional tendency towards flatness in the presentation – you have to work to really see what some of the actors are doing, especially in their reactive moments.
And I don’t think that that is necessarily a bad thing, art can (and perhaps should) be complex and divisive. And it doesn’t have to work for everyone (although factoring in West End ticket prices, even with Lloyd’s admirable commitment to some affordable schemes, complicates this somewhat). Ultimately, the production’s self-awareness as it mocks theatrical convention turned me off but it is always good to see Indira Varma onstage and she kept me there til the end.