The Seagull

Shaun Dunne and Zarima McDermott in NYT's 'The Seagull'.

Shaun Dunne and Zarima McDermott in NYT's 'The Seagull'.

The cast of NYT in 'The Seagull'.

The cast of NYT in 'The Seagull'.

Love stinks. As far as premises go, this covers a fair few texts, if not entire theatrical oeuvres. In NYT's production of Martin Crimp’s concertinaed version of Chekov’s very long and often turgid text, this rock ‘n’ roll notion is foregrounded and indeed illuminated by director Wayne Jordan and his youthful cast. Within moments, one thinks: Ah! That’s what’s always been so irritating about this play! The characters, almost without exception, are spoiled, petulant adolescents!

Happily, they are somewhat easier to take when played by actual teenagers.

It can be said that all of Chekov’s people exist in a state of arrested development. In The Seagull, everybody loves somebody else, and struggle to gain the love of that somebody, all the while giving out about having to remain immured in the country. Konstantin (Sam Ford) loves Nina (Kimberely Tonah), who loves Trigorin (Shaun Dunne), who is stringing along Konstantin’s mum Irina (Zarima McDermott). Meanwhile, Masha (Amy Hibbitts) loves Konstantin, and scorns the love of Semyon (Dylan Coburn Gray), whom she marries anyway, because, hey: stuck in the back of beyond.

It’s the kind of behaviour any budding actor can get his or her teeth into, and they do, aided and abetted by typically exuberant direction by Jordan. The result is a great showcase for some of Ireland’s up-and-comers, and yet another outlet for a director who is quickly solidifying his signature style. However, it becomes increasingly difficult for the viewer to wed the stylistic fillips with Crimp’s text, so that there’s an overall feeling of the approach and the content not quite gelling.

There’s no doubting the enlivening effect that contemporary music and Sínead Bolger as a life-sized seagull has on the production. The music is a sassy touch, and the audacity of rubbing Chekov’s already overwrought metaphor in the audience’s faces is sublime. There’s a lot of dashing about of servants at the top of the play, as per Mr Crimp, and it makes for lost lines and difficulty in attaching complicated Russian names to faces. The chaos of the first act sets a tone that changes so quickly in the second — to more conventional staging — that it’s hard to know whether it’s the text or the technique. The sheer volume of information and action in act one makes for an uneven experience, with act two embodying more of what one had expected from a version: focus and brevity. Crimp gives us little of either, and one has to wonder why he bothered in the first place.

The Seagull is the first of the four plays that would establish the playwright in the canon, and while it is a taste of things to come, it’s not the most compelling of the major works. Which is what begs its transformation into a version that carves the diamond out of the rough… which, in turn, doesn’t happen here. Crimp’s updating of the text, and its colloquial aspects, take some of the must off the fading rose, but still doesn’t cut to the quick of the story: that unrequited love is often taken to a tragic extreme, and that talent not taken to its fullest potential is far more painful.

There are several moments when Crimp and Jordan and the youthful crew work in glorious tandem. In particular, a scene in which McDermott and Ford enact the entire arc of their mother-and-son-hood, with predictably unsatisfying emotional results, is a still pool of fine acting and sensitive direction that inspires one to make note of the names.

It’s a testament to all involved that a scene such as the above couldn’t have played better with adults as opposed to teens. If the production feels uneven, the presentation is lively and creative, and the entire cast disposed themselves well on a prominent Dublin Stage.

Susan Conley is a novelist and arts journalist
  • Review
  • Theatre

The Seagull by Anton Chekov, in a version by Martin Crimp

26 - 29 August, 2009

Produced by National Youth Theatre
In Peacock Theatre

Director: Wayne Jordan

Choreographer: Emma O’Kane

Set and Costume Design: Diego Pitarch

Lighting Design: Eamon Fox

Sound Design: Carl Kennedy

With: Sínead Bolger, Nigel Brennan, Dylan Coburn Gray, Thomas Collins, Shaun Dunne, Sam Ford, Amy Hibbits, Zarima McDermott, Kimberley Tonah, Emily O’Reilly, Damien O’Sullivan, Ben Waddell, Shannon Comiskey, Eve Russell, Gavin Sweeney, Dairmud Woods