BBC Radio 3, 31 January 2010
Stuart Paterson's new version of Chekhov's classic was based on the first-ever
English translation by George Calderon, published in 1909. Directed by Dominic Hill, artistic director of Edinburgh's Traverse
Theatre, this revival relocated the action to Scotland, and used an all-Scottish cast.
In a programme How Chekhov Speaks To Us, broadcast a week before, the actor
Miriam Margolyes stressed the fact that many directors - particularly in the Anglo-American context - treat Chekhov too seriously,
and thereby overlook the fact that many of his works are exceptionally funny as well as tragic. This accusation could certainly
not be levelled at Hill's production, which from the outset announced that it would be played for laughs. Siobhan Redmond
pcared passionately for would-be playwright Konstantin (Robin Laing) - so much, in fact, that we wondered whether she actually
wanted to live her life vicariously through him. Or perhaps she just wanted to be the star of her own melodrama, as she delivered
her lines in ringing tones, with plenty of emphasis on the harsh-sounding consonants. At times I was reminded of Barbara Ewing
in the 1970s sitcom Brass - a spoof of Dickens' Hard Times - who prefaced many of her lines with the invocation
"Oh, son of mine!"
Konstantin himself seemed like an immature youth perpetually clamouring for attention.
We did not believe for one moment that he would actually commit suicide, even though he repeatedly threatened to do so. It
seemed as if most of his knowledge had been gleaned from books rather than practical experience; his pronouncements on
love sounded mechanical, as if he were reading them out loud.
In keeping with the production's comic thrust, Hill used sound-effects to deflate
any potentially tragic situation. As Masha (Meg Fraser) described the futility of her existence, we heard the howling
of a guard-dog in the background. Her words had no real meaning; they were simply the human equivalent of the dog's
Did this interpretation really work? On the one hand Hill suggested that Chekhov's
characters were fundamentally self-interested. They spent so much time complaining about their lot that they remained
indifferent to the world around them. It was clear they had no capacity to deal with their lives - instead they preferred
to blame their misfortunes on 'fate,' whatever that meant. On the other hand we did not really care about what happened to
them - as The Stage reviewer remarked, they resembled "the denizens of A Midsummer Night's Dream, touched
by misdirected love potions." This was particularly sad: although Chekhov understood his characters' absurdities, he also
sympathized with them. Perhaps the production might have worked better if Hill had concentrated less on the ridiculous
and treated The Seagull as a tragi-comedy.