You know you’ve wasted good money watching a Chekhov play if, like his characters, you’re bored to tears or driven to drink by the interval. And you know if a play is good at The Southwark Playhouse because you manage to forget about the distant grumble of trains incessantly rumbling across Platform One at London Bridge station. Thankfully Anya Reiss’s adaptation of The Seagull is subtly drawn and seriously good. Each bitter pint of tragic groaning is deftly chased by a shot of dry humour, and Russell Bolam’s pared-down production comfortably absorbs the eerie atmosphere of the theatre’s soaring vaults.
The Seagull is a play about a beautiful boy who is chasing a beautiful girl, who is chasing a beautiful man who is chasing his youth. The characters stumble in the dark, groping around for each other and tripping over their own dreams in the process. Everyone forgets to live because they’re busy worrying about where they’re going. Money, fame and satisfaction whir overhead, at first out of reach, then out of sight.
Anya Reiss may have won the Evening Standard award for Most Promising Playwright at the tender age of 19, but we think that this adaptation will mercifully peel away her unnecessary label as the voice of the yoof. This adaptation isn’t yung. It ain’t hipsta. It’s just plain excellent. Besides, The Seagull is one of those classic plays you’re meant to have seen. Or should see. Oh, haven’t you ever seen seen it? Whatever. Go see this version, it does Chekhov proud and has a star-spangled cast including Matthew Kelly (forget what you know about Stars in Their Eyes, he’s an Olivier Award winning actor now, don’t you know) and Lily James, who popped up in the recent episode of Downton Abbey as the brazen hussy having an affair with an older, married man. On top of that, the vaults under London Bridge are one of those iconic London venues that you’re also meant to know about. Oh, haven’t you ever…Two birds, one Seagull?
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov is playing at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1, until the 1 December.
For more information [click here] and for the Box Office, ring: 020 7407 0234.
Words by Jenny Lee & photos by Ben Carpenter.