Review: The Seagull at York Theatre Royal

When I was a Drama student in the late Sixties, Chekhov was much admired and much performed. He was linked with the acting technique of Stanislavski and invited an exploration of naturalistic acting. Over the decades since many other approaches to the art of acting have emerged and styles have been explored to suit contemporary drama, but I confess to a strong affinity with what The Americans called ‘The Method’ or Stanislavski’s technique.

By Angie Millard

Photos by John Saunders

The Seagull is a complex text which examines what gives life meaning. It looks at an assortment of creative people and their lack of satisfaction. Masha is the depressed daughter of the estate manager who summarises the problem they all face when she says ‘I am mourning for my life’.

An actress and an aspiring actress, an established author and a struggling writer – all are trying to make sense of their existence, not helped by the estate steward from hell who controls their transport and means of escape.

So how does the director, Helen Wilson draw us in to this rather bleak scenario? She focuses on the two handed scenes which constitute the body of the play and helps us look beneath the text.

Stephanie Hesp creates Arkadina as a selfish monster well matched to Ben Sawyer’s Trigorin with his infuriating search for perfection. The younger protagonists, Nina, played by Livy Potter, and Konstantin, played by Benedict Turvill, have everything that self-destruction requires in their search for love and approval. Everywhere we see frustration and unhappiness but Wilson makes us evaluate the reasons for this and gives room for reflection.

We have some excellent performances and moments in this production such as the scene which shows the heartbreaking yearning Polina feels for the doctor Dorn or the futile desire Masha cherishes for Trigorin but throughout it is Nina who captivates the audience. Livy Potter’s performance was pitch perfect.

The play is pre-Russian revolution and one cannot help but wonder if Chekhov felt these characters needed change and whether their society required the almighty shake-up that revolution brought. Certainly the plot is based in a period when there was time for self-indulgence but he did provide a vehicle for Stanislavski’s groundbreaking techniques and the actors in the production seized the opportunity.

The Seagull is being performed at York Theatre Royal from 26 February to 7 March 2020. It is directed by Helen Wilson. Lighting and set is by Graham Sanderson.