27 January 2011
CHEKHOV’S THE SEAGULL .
"at the Oxford Playhouse"
By: Julia Gasper.
The Seagull is a classic and this production is unmissable. Chekhov is one of the absolute greats and there are
people who buy houses in Oxford for the chance to see this sort of production of a truly wonderful play.
Set in an isolated country house in the Russian provinces, hundreds of miles from Moscow, the story concerns the
aspirations and rivalries of various artists and writers who gather as the guests of the elderly Sorin. His sister,
Madame Irina Arkadina, is a celebrated actress and a rather awful person. A successful woman with a liberated
lifestyle, she is also vain, selfish, affected, and insensitive to the needs of younger people. When she brings her
lover, the famous writer Trigorin, to stay this causes resentment and anxiety to her son, the aspiring young
Konstantin, who would also like to be a writer. His new play is treated by Arkadina with unkind mockery and
condescension, and his inferiority feelings are multiplied when Nina, the young would-be actress he loves, is drawn
to the older Trigorin because of his confidence, fame and success. Nina’s tragedy becomes Konstantin’s tragedy.
Passion lurks everywhere in Chekhov, silent and unrewarded. What about the seagull? Surely it is significant? Well,
the seagull gets stuffed, and Nina loses her virginity, but there is no need to see any unwelcome resemblance
there. The bird is a symbol of lost dreams.
Henry Faber is to be congratulated for his outstanding performance as Konstantin, whose parallels with Hamlet were
subtly brought out in this production. Bella Hammad made an admirable Nina, fresh, expressive, responsive and very
natural. The parts of the ailing uncle Sorin, and the well-meaning teacher Medviedenko, are admirably carried off
in a gently comic style by Matt Gavan, and Rob Hoare Nairne. As Arkadina, Laura Nakhla was remarkable, funny and
ghastly at the same time without ever lurching into parody. This was a finely-calculated and restrained
performance. The role of Dr Dorn, the local physician tending Sorin, is a significant one, because he stands a
little outside the family circle, detached from its tense, fraught emotions, and he is the only one to recognize
Konstantin’s talent. In this role, Michael Kalisch needed to look older. His hair should be greyed and combed down,
he could perhaps move a little more stiffly and it would help to draw some lines on his face.
I would suggest that the programme could offer slightly more information about each character e.g. “Dorn the local
doctor” to help people who are not familiar with the play already.
Illyria Productions is a student company but this was a truly professional level of performance. The sets for this
production are effective and atmospheric, and the choice of yearning romantic music - by Fauré and Chopin - is
ideal. The director Chloë Wickes is to be congratulated on what is altogether a triumph. http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/