by Anton Chekhov new version by Anya Reiss.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 1 December 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 November.
Not for all time, maybe, but fine for the moment.
Some productions of classics become classics themselves, setting a standard as long as their audiences’ memories. Like Terry Hands’ 1990 Royal Shakespeare Company Seagull. Moment after moment across its performances, up to Simon Russell Beale’s Konstantin carefully tidying his papers before killing himself, still stand-out.
In Russell Bolam’s Southwark Playhouse’s revival Konstantin ends-up dunking his mobile and laptop in water. Whether the idea was Bolam’s or adaptor Anya Reiss’s, it fits the modern, anglicised setting, the country estate in Russia’s vastness translated into an island remoteness – probably a wealthy ghetto like the Isle of Man.
This palimpsest of Chekhov and modernity never becomes adventitious. Konstantin’s play remains morosely symbolist, even if his sound effects are on his laptop – a melancholy track eventually becomes comically gloomy for audience and characters as it’s heard offstage.
Just as an image of elegance is partially glimpsed behind veiling curtains. Yet, while there’s an elusive element, there’s also a firm youthful perspective. While never disruptively modern, Reiss provides dialogue catching the tang of modern youth: “Ten minutes without telling her how fabulous she was in, in, in something or other and she gets like this,” says Konstantin of his actress-mother Arkadina.
Who Sasha Waddell, in flowing dress or the assertively elegant attire, shows as someone denying approaching age. Reiss, at 21, is on youth’s side. Middle-aged Trigorin is a nonentity, with little interest in his supposedly beloved fishing, let alone writing, while older characters sink into sleepy inconsequence like Malcolm Tierney’s Sorin or, like Matthew Kelly’s Dorn, are unusually aggressive
Among the young, Ben Moor’s unassertive teacher Medvedenko is less ridiculous than often, while Emily Dobbs’ dark-tempered, black-garbed Masha doesn’t descend, as often, into alcoholism.
Most importantly, Joseph Drake’s Konstantin, struggling with island life, his mother and love for Lily James’ modern Nina, is keenly presented. And James’ modern woman is a survivor, with none of the mental disintegration Amanda Root brought to the final act in 1990.
This production isn’t in that league. But in refusing to hide behind anything foreign or remote in word or manner, it is distinctive in its modern clarity.
Shamrayev: Michael Beckley.
Masha: Emily Dobbs.
Konstantin: Joseph Drake.
Trigorin: Anthony Howell.
Nina: Lily James.
Polina: Julia St John.
Dorn: Matthew Kelly.
Medvedenko: Ben Moor.
Sorin: Malcolm Tierney.
Arkadina: Sasha Waddell.
Director: Russell Bolam
Designer/Costume: Jean Chan.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: George Dennis.
Associate director: Ross Drury.
Associate lighting: Chris Wither.
Assistant sound: Max Pappenheim.