There seems to be a minor Tennessee Williams revival going on at the moment. After last year's Donmar Streetcar and Broadway transfer Cat, a couple of lesser-known pieces, which I'm ending up seeing within a week of each other. First up a real curiosity, The Notebook of Trigorin. Written a couple of years before his death, it's an adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull, a play Williams had apparently been obsessed with most of his life. I wouldn't have naturally put the two playwrights together but I can see how Arkadina, the famed actress and full-time drama queen, would provide a starting point for him and his love of dramatic female characters.
Williams' changes aren't actually that major in terms of the plot, but his language is so distinctive that the resulting play is a weird mix (especially as the Finborough's production opts to perform it as if set in the American South, and most of the accents are very good by the way.) One minor alteration is to make Trigorin bisexual, largely so that he can deliver a speech that's blatantly on Williams' behalf, responding to mockery of his sexuality. The cast are all good - I found Richard Franklin's Sorin a hugely likeable old man, while on the opposite scale Morgan James gives Doctor Dorn a lascivious slimyness that made my flesh creep, and Carolyn Backhouse establishes Arkadina as a glamorous monster right from the off. She also gets some of the few big laughs in the evening in her scenes with Stephen Billington's Trigorin, as she hams it up at the slightest hint of not getting her way. I got very geekily excited as well when I looked in the programme and realised why Lachelle Carl, who plays Polina, looked familiar: She played Trinity Wells, the newsreader who for the last five years has popped up on Doctor Who, Torchwood and SJA every time there's a catastrophe that needs reporting on. Happily she's also quite good in this, a small role but she does get a couple of scene-stealing lines.
The cast has good energy but the ending dragged a bit for me; although I think this is almost inevitable even in the best productions, and an inherent problem with Chekhov's structure - all those characters who seem to have made their big exit only to wander back onstage again is a recipe for giving me itchy feet. A feature of Phil Willmott's production is that he has Trigorin's voice read some of Williams' more poetic stage directions in voiceover, as if coming from the titular notebook, a conceit that works better some times than others. The play is a bit of a curate's egg and worth a look in a strong production, but ultimately it's perhaps not that surprising that this is the first time it's ever been staged in London.
The Notebook of Trigorin by Tennessee Williams, based on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, is booking until the 24th of April at the Finborough Theatre.