REVIEW: The Seagull | Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney
The Russians are coming! Actually, they’ve already arrived. And they’re everywhere. Not in Soviet-era tanks, but theatrical garb. Chekhov. Bulgakov. Adaptations by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. For Belvoir. Sydney Theatre Company. Perhaps, in STC’s case at least, it’s to balance out the heavy leaning towards American plays we saw in 2010.
Benedict Andrews has taken Anton Chekov to ’50s-style fibro holiday units, with the first of the latter’s big four. That’s the aesthetic, realised handsomely, by Ralph Myers. As such, the setting moves forward half a century or so. To purists, Andrews might as well be named Arnold, but the Aussification works well, since it’s set up the moment one catches a glimpse of that set.
Emily Barclay is a brilliant Masha Shamrayev, the quintessential goth, fatalistic and resigned, hopelessly in love; young, but already with the taste of sour milk in her mouth. Bille Brown is Yevgeny Dorn, who’s not a million miles from the mindset of Masha: cynical, with nary a skerrick of optimism or innocence left. Brown fits the, ah, Bille, rather well, but there are moments when he seems to flinch a little, betraying a self-consciousness foreign to the character he’s playing. This seems particularly evident when he indulges a (scripted, or directed) penchant to lapse into excerpts of popular songs.
Gareth Davies is Semyon Medvedenko, a nerdy teacher, a role he inhabits consummately: one is seduced, and reduced, to laughing at his character’s awkwardness, like a pathetic playground bully or cowardly fellow-traveller, yet drawn to feel his pain too. It’s a tightrope walk, and Davies shows no signs of over-balancing.
Judy Davis is Irina Arkadina, a thoroughly self-absorbed actor, and seems to draw upon some of the neurosis she probably picked up from Woody. She is superb, and not just because she’s Judy Davis, though that would help anyone. Maeve Dermody is Nina Zarechnaya, the wide-eyed blonde bombshell who turns on a light in the dingier rooms of mens’ minds. It’s hard to tell if this is witting, unwitting, or a bit of both, and herein lies the art of her reading and performance.
It’s good to see John Gaden again, as Pyotr Sorin, the aging and ailing brother of Irina. He seems to me to have captured some of the guileless, clueless-yet-knowing pavement wisdom of Frasier’s dad, which makes for an interesting take and he has mastered all the affectations that allow such to be utterly convincing. His is one of the most compelling presences.
Anita Hegh is Polina Shamrayev, Masha’s mother, prone to bursting into tears at the slightest provocation, indulging momentary symptoms of her marital disappoitnment. Terry Serio is Ilya, her hamfisted hubby, delivering a block-headed bloke that could see him nominated for president of the National Farmers’ Federation, if not a Sydney theatre award.
And David Wenham is Aleksei Trigorin, a perfect match for Irina, insofar as his oblivious self-absorption. Wenham can be a bit of a mumbler, but he lifted his game as went along. He never quite does it for me, though, as I’m constantly aware of his charismatic, woman’s man Wenhamhood.
For all the other talent on stage, it’s relative newcomer Dylan Young, as Konstantin Treplev, that steals the show; mind you, he’s written that way.
Man, talk about star-crossed lovers. To fill the gaping hole left by their bourgeois boredom, their restless energy inevitably turns romantic which, let’s face it, is just a polite euphemism for sexual. Sorin, whose farm is where all the action takes place, is one of the few who, ostensibly, evade the no-win traps and trappings of love. He’s fading fast, though at one point he confesses a slightly demented thing for Nina. He’s the most likable of all the characters, being the least self-obsessed and indulgent. He cares more deeply for Konstantin than Irina and watches over him.
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