I did a bit of market research before staging The Seagull, and by that I mean that I asked a few what they thought of the play. Most people, whether or not they have read the play, seem to have a vague notion of The Seagull as ‘one of those plays that I ought to read’. A lot of people view Chekhov as intimidating, or even just a bit boring. The fact is that the play is actually relatively simple and is far from boring. It was actually described by Chekhov as a comedy. Surprisingly, there are some really silly, funny parts to the play, as well as darker themes such as unrequited love and avian death. After watching the cast in rehearsals, I’ve concluded that it’s one of the most compelling, entertaining plays I’ve seen put on in Durham. It is not the staid, sombre piece of theatre that some people imagine it to be.
Indeed, I read the play when I was nineteen and I loved it. However – and I know this is a cliché – The Seagull really is one of those plays that is different every time you read it. Watching the cast in rehearsals as well, something different and exciting happens every time we rehearse. Lines take on new meanings, relationships are seen in a new light, we begin to like characters we previously disliked and vice-versa. The best way to sum up Chekhov’s writing is that every detail of the play – every word that is spoken, every stage direction every prop that he puts on the stage – all of it is there for a reason. Details which seem random and of little consequence early in the play are shown to be relevant and important later on.
The way I’ve chosen to stage this production of the Seagull is quite faithful to the original play. Although we’ve made a few bold choices with it, anybody hoping to see an avant-garde, futuristic, deconstructed version of this play may be slightly disappointed. I see absolutely nothing wrong with doing an experimental take on a classic play, and sometimes it can work very well. However, I wasn’t going to go ‘edgy’ for the sake of it. I had a clear picture of how I would make the play feel like it was set in the late 19th century. We have an incredible team of people working to make sure the play looks fantastic.
Furthermore, what I am probably most proud of with this play is the quality of the acting. Of course I cannot take credit for this. The cast have been so committed, have put up with a very intense two week of rehearsals and have really thought about how to bring their parts to life. They’ve taken on some of the most iconic and challenging roles it’s possible to play in theatre and, I believe, done them justice. I hope that people find it as thought-provoking, funny and moving as I do. At the very least, they’ll leave wondering “just who or what is The Seagull?” Ever since the play was written, people have argued over what Chekhov was referring to in the title. Is one of the characters the figurative seagull or is it literally just describing the sea-faring bird. I have my own opinion, but I’ll leave that to the audience to decide for themselves.