Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve. 

Alexander Cobb’s Konstantin remains the pivotal figure – a young man full of the desire to cast off old traditions and break in a new vein of creativity but trapped by an innate lack of originality – and Cobb’s earnestness proves a magnetic draw for this Nina who finds a kindred overthinking spirit. Pearl Chanda – making a stage debut – convinces as the gauche gamine but doesn’t quite have the range to connect as she must with Gyuri Sarossy’s excellent Trigorin, especially in the face of Abigail Cruttenden’s sizzling yet self-absorbed Arkadina, Konstantin’s neglectful mother and Trigorin’s exacting lover who revels in her ability to control his climaxes with her words in a subversively brilliant scene. 

Elsewhere Jenny Rainsford nails a more appropriately modern ennui for Masha which characterises this production beautifully, this is a melancholy that feels much more relatable and relevant than how so much of Chekhov is presented. It’s a shame that the final scenes misfire slightly, McIntyre’s sure touch deserting a little to mute the impact of the finale, but otherwise this makes for a highly satisfying and vital reinterpretation of a classic that ought to appeal to a whole new generation. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 27th April then touring to Glasgow, Newcastle, Oxford, Richmond, Bath and Derby

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