The great "The" drought of 2011 has already claimed the definite article from
The School for Scandal and The Government Inspector and now Chekhov is next to suffer from this cruel deprivation as the Arcola stages a new version of The Seagull. While I'm not a huge Chekhov fan I seem to get on with this play better than most and Joseph Blatchley's is a particularly strong, clear production. The wry humour of the first three acts is brought out and provides a noticeable contrast when we rejoin these characters two years later for the final act when the "tragedy" part of the tragicomedy comes into full effect. Though there always seems to be some insistence on picking out a star turn in Chekhov's plays (in this one it's always Arkadina, here made comparatively gentle by Geraldine James, her self-obsession tempered by insecurity and appearing genuinely unaware of the harm she causes) they're really ensemble pieces and there's a strong cast here: Al Weaver's slightly effeminate, brittle Konstantin; Yolanda Kettle's wide-eyed Nina; Gabrielle Lloyd's fussing Polina; and I've never seen Roger Lloyd Pack give a better performance than this understated turn as the brusque but essentially kind-hearted doctor Dorn. It's one of the more effective Chekhov productions you're likely to see, with one major misjudged element in Dora Schweitzer's grass-covered set - it looks great but is a lot of real grass for a relatively small room. The smell overpowers you as soon as you walk through the door to Studio 1 and with bits of grass flying around throughout it makes for an uncomfortable experience if you suffer from hayfever.
Seagull by Anton Chekhov in a translation by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley is booking until the 16th of July at Arcola Studio 1.