“Life in the country is just so bloody boring”
Someone wiser than I pointed out that the only way you could do The Seagull at the Open Air Theatre was to be thoroughly iconoclastic, ruffling those Chekhovian feathers into something brasher, bolder and less contained. And there is no doubting that that is what Torben Betts’ new version and Matthew Dunster’s directorial vision have set out to do here, ramping up the comedic elements (of the first half at least) but sacrificing much of the counterbalancing tragedy that customarily gives the Russian writer’s work its depth.
There’s some good work here – Janie Dee’s skittish Arkadina is a delight as she vainly tries to cling onto a long-gone girliishness (though impressive barre work!), Lisa Diveney’s Kirsten Stewart-ish Masha is well-realised in all her agonised inaction, and Jon Bausor’s striking design tilts a giant mirror at 45 degrees to the floor to both open up and expose the world of the tortured souls in this country estate. But the prevailing mood is one of something close to glibness, as the frivolity of the updating comes up hard against the traditional period setting.
So with sniggering skinny-dipping servants pulling focus, booming foghorns unsettling the mood, a contemporised script that mistakes profanity for profundity, and direction that skates far too close to the superficially melodramatic (at its worst during the voiceover sequences as characters’ thoughts are played out loud whilst they gurn below), this Seagull drifts aimlessly on the thermals of the Open Air, neither here nor there, neither then nor now.