By Laura Money
Anton Checkov’s acclaimed play The Seagull comes to Perth via the Black Swan Theatre Company. Playing at the
grand State Theatre Centre WA, the well-known play features mother and daughter duo – Greta Scaachi and Leila George as potential rivals in love. It is classic theatre at its best. The crew at the Black Swan Theatre Company knows how to deliver a professional and charming productioce of nineteenth-century Russian theatre to life are the grand and sumptuous blue curtains covering the stage.
They are reminiscent of the era and quite a rarity these days in contemporary theatre productions. As the audience simmers down, the curtains draw open to reveal a set that continues the beautiful azure blue throughout. A stunning photographed backdrop projected onto the back of the set shows the beauty of the lake and glorious surrounds. A makeshift ‘stage’ complete with wooden platform, twiggy saplings holding up white muslin curtains and crude oil lamps burning, coupled with the bohemian scattering of an assortment of chairs and benches, cushions and blankets all facing the ‘stage’ are simple, yet effective. This is the country estate of retired judge, Peter Sorin (Michael Loney) who
staggers out onto the stage, doubled over with age on his walking stick, sitting on a bench. He talks with his young
nephew, Konstantin (Luke McMahon) who is anxious about putting on the play he wrote. He is tormented by the fact
that he wants to write deep and meaningful work, not the sort of thing that his mother acts in. He is also rather obviously infatuated by Nina (George) who is to be acting in his magnum opus.
As the other characters arrive, we glimpse a moment into their various lives. There is young Masha, the lovelorn and depressed figure after Konstantin’s affections. She wears a Victorian style mourning dress, black and not dissimilar to that of the famous queen. Dorn, a middle aged doctor, the facilitators of Sorin’s estate and of course, we learn more about Sorin himself. Scaachi as Irena Arkadin sweeps onto the stage, almost flouncing with the young and handsome writer Trigorin in her wake. They take a seat and Konstantin’s play begins. Watching this play within a play, the audience can feel a sense of internal analysis on Checkov’s part. The characters speak of a need to withdraw from the vacuous plays common at the time and to move towards a real use of language. They also debate the role of the theatre, some seeing it as a force for change, others as a way to escape the real world for a few hours of light entertainment. As the debate heats
up, it does feel as though the audience is being challenged to continue this debate after the show over a coffee.
Brooding away the next day, Konstantin shoots a seagull to garner the affections of Nina. They sit together on a
beautifully crafted swing-chair and wisps of white flicker in front of the clear blue sky. McMahon’s tragic rendering of Konstantin is expressed through his frustration and angst. He leaves and Tragorin enters, saying that he overheard
their exchange and thought that the seagull would be a perfect metaphor for a girl in a story. He sets about confusing and seducing Nina, who throws herself at him willingly. The tension between the youthful and bright Nina and the aging and fading Irena is palpable, Scaachi’s expressive eyes flicker dangerously at George as they both battle to
control the pace of the swing.
The sets change to reveal such opulence in the form of a grand dining room, complete with chaise lounge and candelabras. Despite the veneer of refinement, the characters are laid bare in their folly. Irena comforts and berates her son in a tender, yet dangerous moment of intimacy. Masha reluctantly accepts the young teacher, Medvedenko’s proposal – although she doesn’t pull any punches by saying that it’s not what she actually desires. This scene has a
feeling of the fin-de-siècle about it; we can see the bonds of the ‘family’ begin to unravel.
The final scene takes place a few years later. The audience sees what became of each of the characters. This is beautifully
rendered as most plays ask the audience to continue the players’ stories in their own heads. Checkov lays it out for all to see. The haunted atmosphere begets a feeling of impending doom. The furnishings are now sparse, the lighting dim and the characters all appear a little washed out. The play has an ending that will haunt you for life.
The Seagull is a classic for a reason. It’s a well rendered, simple yet effective play. Each character has so much behind them; they could fill volumes on their biographies. If you want to see how contemporary theatre was informed and influenced, go and see The Seagull.
The Seagull is showing at the State Theatre Centre WA from the 9th – 31st August 2014.