It was my birthday last month and my friend Amanda presented me with a gift, two tickets to see Ian McKellen in Chekhov’s The Seagull at The RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford. The visit to Stratford yesterday brought back some wonderful memories, we spent some time wondering around the center and seeing some of the sights. The last time I watched a play in Stratford was over a decade ago, prior to that I used to travel there frequently to watch various productions. I’m not sure why I stopped going, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but nevertheless it is one that I regret.
The actual production itself was wonderful. Prior to watching the play last night I wasn’t at all familiar with it, and quite deliberately refrained from reading up on it. I didn’t want to watch the play with any expectations, I guess I just wanted to enjoy the production without trying to over analyse it, or pre-judge it beforehand.
The story revolves around the romantic and artistic conflict between four main characters: The fading actress lady Irina Arkadina, her son the experimental playwright Konstantin, the young, famous and extremely successful writer Trigorin who is also Arkadina’s lover and finally Nina the young aspiring actress who is loved by Konstantin but is herself infatuated with Trigorin.
One of the things you immediately notice about the play is that there is a strong inter textual relationship with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Arakadina and Konstantin quote lines from Hamlet, and Konstantin is obsessed with winning his mother back from Trigorin much as Hamlet tries to win his mother Queen Gertrude back from his uncle Claudius. Also like Hamlet, The Seagull ends with tragedy.
Frances Barber’s performance as Arkadina is mesmerising, and McKellen as Sorin, (Arkadina’s brother) was a joy to watch – his performance was excellent, and provided some much needed humour to offset the tragic melodrama surrounding the various romantic triangles that we learn of and the tensions they create that ultimately lead to the play ending when Konstantin kills himself.
I had a truly wonderful time yesterday … so thanks Amanda!