Chekov for Beginners is how you could summarise Torben Betts’ new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. But does Chekhov have to become so accessible, or should we stick to tradition?
Despite being described as a ‘comedy’ already, Betts’ new script tries to expose it further. However, its problem is that the comedy then becomes too obvious and forced. Chekhov’s script challenged audiences to search for its dry humour, yet Betts overplays it with pantomime-like voiceovers and exaggerated facial expressions from the actors. Consequently, the comedic effect wears off very quickly and makes Betts’ adaptation incredibly bland at times.
Jon Bausar’s striking set design, however, keeps some intrigue throughout. A large mirror hangs at a 45 degree angle over the actors, allowing audiences to see the performance from two different angles. Admittedly, it was difficult to change my view from watching the actors normally to then looking at the mirror. It is only in the scene changes that Charlotte Broom’s choreography adds a beautifully cinematic edge to Dunster’s production when looking at the mirror.
Janie Dee plays an icon of the acting world, Arkadina, and thus is the most exciting to watch. Dee is youthful in her quick movements, yet vocally she places her words with control and tenderness. Her scenes with Trigorin, the other star of the show, erupt with passion as we see these two excel in their physical energy. Dee performs with youth impeccably, contrasting with Sabrina Bartlett as Nina, who becomes too over the top and irritating vocally.
It is Dee who saves Betts’ vanilla script. A traditionalist, I may be, but too much emphasis on the comedy is what takes away the timeless tragedy from Chekhov’s script.
Reviewed by Jack Grey
Photo: JOHAN PERSSON
The Seagull is playing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 11 July 2015. Click here for tickets