The Seagull - by Anton Chekhov
Review by Noel Ensoll
You may think that there are sufficient seagulls in Margate, but Chekhov's The Seagull is a worthy addition. Locally-based theatre group Carole and Maude perform this great meditation on life and art at The Resort theatre space, Margate, this weekend (Sat 8th- Sun 9th Feb).
The venue was once a depository, and the performance space for this production is a vast store room. With the audience clustered around in a semi-circle, it makes a suitably big but claustrophobic setting for the dull country estate where Chekhov's characters have little to do but talk and work out their intense relationships.
They are no ordinary bunch. Arkadina is a famous actress, who hates the place. She is only visiting because of the failing health of her brother Sorin, the landowner. With Arkadina is her lover, Trigorin, a successful writer. Stuck on the estate with no money is Konstantin, her son, who aspires to write, but in a new style that rejects the conventionalities of figures such as Trigorin.
Konstantin is in love with Nina, a young girl from the neighbouring estate, who longs to escape her restrictive family by becoming a great actress. Initially attracted to Konstantin, she falls under the spell of Trigorin's reputation. Of the country folk, Sorin regrets that his early ambitions to write withered away into a conventional life as a civil servant. His estate manager Shamrayev worships Arkadina, the celebrated actress. Shamrayev's neglected wife, Paulina is attracted to the doctor, Dorn, now at the end of a good career marked by equal popularity with the ladies. Paulina is in the perfect position to sympathise with her daughter, Masha, hopelessly in love with Konstantin. She is ignored by Konstantin and pursued by the anxious schoolmaster Medviedenko, a man reduced to dullness by burdensome relatives and poverty.
One of the joys of Chekhov's play is how cleanly drawn, complex and individual the characters are. In this production the largely professional ensemble displayed sinewy intelligence, pace and variety under the direction of Charmaine Hawthorne.
Jane Pulford was colourful but convincing as the famous actress and flawed mother, Arkadina. Harpreet Chagar played her son, aspiring young writer Konstantin, with a young man's passion and temper; his performance in the last scene – hazardously close to melodrama - was beautifully-pitched.
Rachel Bird triumphed in the difficult part of Nina. Of all the characters Nina matures and changes the most, and this was a powerful and poignant portrayal of the journey from open, confident youth to the realities of adult life. Nina's 'dramatic' performance of Konstantin's avante-garde monologue was a delightful reminder of the passion and conviction of the young.
David Hemsted brought out the insecurities of Trigorin with understatement, and I loved Anna Symes's humour as the drinker and snuff-addict Masha, the most self-dramatising member of a household full of big characters.
There's something for everyone in The Seagull: obsession with fame, the search for love, professional and personal disappointment, working mothers, the point of work... and dreams, fulfilled or unfulfilled. Charmaine Hawthorne's setting in the 1950's – with musical references to the rebellious art of the beat generation – added to the sense of universal themes without becoming mannered or intrusive.
There were a couple of moments when voices dropped a little too low, but the opening night on Thursday was a great success, and as the cast settle in it will get even better.
It was a play I hadn't seen and for me this clear and well-paced professional production provided an absorbing evening. I hope for more of the same from Carol and Maude, and any theatre-lover who cannot always get to London or pay fancy prices would do themselves a great favour by going along.
The Next Room - by Peter Barnett
by Luke Ilett-Mackie on 23 July 2011
Performed in the smallest theatre in the United Kingdom, The Tom Thumb Theatre, The Next Room created an incredible atmosphere that was intense and powerful. Beautifully written by Peter Barnett, using expressive yet everyday language to create sensual images yet maintain the audiences immersion and believability, The Next Room captured the audience and made them feel that they were almost overhearing a conversation held by the two main characters. The intimate theatre added to this feeling as the setting was a front room, and it felt like you could have actually been in a front room.
Richard Sirot and Jane Pulford did fantastic jobs of creating peaks and troughs in the tension and really pulled you in to the narrative, as the main twists of the play formed and the dark secrets of the story unfolded. The direction, by Steve Bradley, allowed for intricate details in the characters' relationship to be explored, and the awkward tension between them, displayed through their use of body language, was very well blocked and performed.
The use of simple, yet poignant, colour symbolism created a significant marker for the audience and when looking back on the play provided a way of predicting the final outcome, however this is not obvious until it is realised at the end.
The preceding monologues created a positive undercurrent which placed the audience in a false sense of security. This was a clever tactic as it caused the audience to fall even further when the dark history surrounding the characters is revealed. The monologues were very entertaining, however, the most memorable aspect of the show was the play itself, as it provided an almost cathartic experience which left the audience unsure of what to do once the lights had come up. Everyone had to take a minute to process what had just happened.
Considering the average person's attention span is less than ten minutes, and with just two characters throughout the entire play, The Next Room did an amazing job of captivating and involving the audience. There was not one audience member who wasn't left stunned at the end of the show, and that is down to the interesting language, intriguing story, unexpected twists, brilliant direction and emotive acting. Lacking any one of these aspects and the show would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable and I look forward to seeing the next show performed by Mad Frogs Theatre Company.