Review: Does The Seagull Fly At Regent’s Park?

By Sam Smith Last edited 38 months ago
Review: Does The Seagull Fly At Regent’s Park? ★★★★☆ 4

Time for reflection in Torben Betts' new take on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull © Johan Persson
Time for reflection in Torben Betts' take on Chekhov's The Seagull © Johan Persson

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

The Seagull of 1896 is seen as the first of Chekhov’s four major plays. Set on a Russian country estate it focuses on a variety of characters, including the young Nina Zarechnaya who wants to be an actress, and the would-be playwright Konstantin Trepliov who aims to overturn all theatrical conventions. As it also introduces older figures whose lives have been fulfilled to markedly different degrees, it explores the themes of love, hope, aspiration and despair alongside the place and purpose of art in society.

The skill of Matthew Dunster's production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is to make a play that occurs in a repressive atmosphere work in a large, outdoor setting. In the first half, John Bausor’s scenery builds on the stage’s natural backdrop of trees and foliage to create an Arcadian vision befitting both the setting of rural Russia and Konstantin’s own vision for theatre. This contrasts with the set for the final acts whose prosaic wooden floorboards proclaim the total sterility of society.

Throughout the evening a diagonal mirror hangs above the stage so that we see everyone moving like insects, even when they are hidden behind objects. This says something about the place of these characters, and by extension us, in the wider world, while also alluding to the ideas concerning spirit and matter that are prevalent in Konstantin’s own play. Many points and themes are brought out clearly by employing (sometimes modern) music and voiceovers that reveal figures’ innermost thoughts.

It may be true that the very same factors that make this production so understandable, accessible and fit for its setting could jar with some people. For example, the use of earthy, and frequently modern, language in this new version of the play by Torben Betts may well be to the detriment of the ‘poetry’ to be found in the original. Nevertheless, with a superb cast that includes a marvellous Janie Dee as Konstantin’s mother and Sabrina Bartlett who brings just the right levels of innocence and infatuation to the character of Nina, this production should win over the majority of audience members.

Until 11 July at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, NW1 4NU. For tickets (£25-60) call 0844 826 4242 or visit the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 26 June 2015