The King’s Players’ production of Chekhov’s classic play ‘The Seagull’ is about to begin. Mismatched chairs, some wrought iron and ornate, some business-like and modern, stand in a random pattern, bathed in a mellow blue light. The Anatomy Museum, with its crisp art-deco architecture and giant bauble light fixtures, always makes for a vaguely otherworldly venue, but this set seems to promise something particularly eerie.
We hear a melody on strings, wavering and overlapping with something darker and warped. It sets the tone for the rest of the production’s design. All is subtle and slightly distorted. The colour scheme is dominated by shades of blue, perhaps alluding to the lake that is so central to the story and represented in this production by a sheer sky-blue curtain hung across the back of the stage. The staging is elegant and simple. Entrances and exits are well-choreographed and the Anatomy Museum’s balcony is deftly incorporated into jarring interludes in which we glimpse Nina and other characters in haunting poses in between flashes of darkness.
The acting delivered by some of its cast was the production’s strong point. Magnus Gordon is full of restless energy and eagerness as the aspiring young playwright Konstantin Treplev and, later, believably despairing as his tortured, heartbroken older self. Phillip Schaeffer, in his acting debut at King’s, gives a polished performance as the womanising yet wise doctor Yevgeny Dorn. Katerina Spiga as self-centred actress Irina Arkadina is imperious, hypocritical and melodramatic, though some of the humour usually associated with her role is lost in favour of a more sombre characterisation. Romane Bökkerink’s rendition of Nina’s famous speech – ‘I am the seagull… No, that’s not it. I’m an actress!’ – is strangely mellow, but nevertheless effective, and thus indicative of this production’s overall tone.
The play takes a while to get going. The moody lighting design keeps the actors’ faces in darkness for a long time before the stage really brightens in Act 2. Most of the cast has their backs to the audience for most of Act 1. However, this positioning is appropriate to the scene, in which those assembled at the Russian country estate where the ‘The Seagull’ takes place watch Konstantin’s first play being performed. Staging and performance come into their own as the plot grows darker.
Isabella Hubbard directs a calm and collected, carefully constructed production. The Seagull is an intriguing addition to this theatrical year at King’s.