Article Title:Sir Ian McKellen in Chekov's The Seagull
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:20th August 2007 - 11:00 pm
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Story ID:4805
Text:Sir Ian McKellen with Richard Goulding The Seagull by Anton Chekov Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain Dir: Trevor Nunn ASB Theatre, The Edge, Auckland In its own way, “The Seagull” stands as important a work from the nineteenth century as Shakespeare's “King Lear” from the seventeenth. In London in the past year alone there have been three productions on show, but in Australasia it is seldom seen. That goes for Chekov generally; his output is obscure in this part of the world to say the least. Why that is it's hard to fathom. Like Shakespeare, Chekov was a keen observer of human nature and had no illusions about his fellow creatures. He recognised that they were weak and pitiful, vain and greedy, selfish and insensitive, but that some were noble. His scale may have been smaller and more personal and his language less direct, but his creations live on as well as those of Shakespeare as prototypes, templates of the human condition. Madame Arkadina stands out in the Chekov canon as a spectacularly powerful and self-obsessed speciman of woman. An actress and mother, her concerns are principally with the former role and the latter one is clearly an encumbrance. Having snagged as a lover the popular writer Trigorin, a man young enough to be her son, she brings him like a trophy to spend the summer with her family at her brother's estate in the country, where lives her actual son, whose ambitions to be a writer she scorns and whose well-being is of no importance to her at all. Konstantin, the son, adores her and is insanely jealous of Trigorin both as a successful writer and as his mother's paramour. The subplots, and there are several, all involve unrequited love or the lack of love altogether and the estate seethes with resentments, adulteries, frustrations and tensions which Chekov builds slowly, letting wounds fester and finally erupt from the corruption we smell under everything we see and hear. It is late nineteenth Russia, the systems are breaking down, crushed by centuries of inhumanity. As Arkadina, Frances Barber finds both the harridan and the terrified and aging dominatrix but seldom any redeeming kindness. Clearly she is in command in her milieu, whether it be the Moscow theatre world or the audience of lover, family and serfs she bullies and manipulates. Barber clearly established that no one is a match for her character. Richard Goulding plays the son as alternately the victim and the observer of his monstrous mother, but in the end she is too much for him. Tregorin, in the hands of Gerald Kyd, is smug and complacent, happy to be caught in Arkadina's web and return to it after his rebellious ravaging of poor Nina, a girl from the neighbouring farm, played in a state of constant agitation by the beautiful Romola Garai. Ian McKellen, as the uncle, Sorin, is clearly the only match on stage for Barber. His nobly unselfish (but a bit miserly) nature offsets her narcissism and he bears the loneliness he feels without rancor and does his duty as best he can in his frail elderly condtion. It is the kind of definitive performance McKellen continually produces and an example of why he is a great artist. The sub-family of the estate manager Shamrayev, Polina, his wife and Masha, their depressed and alcoholic daughter, all provide an arch sort of comic foil for the rest – Guy Williams an overbearing and ridiculously sycophantic boor, fawning on Arkadina at every chance while tyrannising the rest of the assemblage; Masha, played by wonderful Monica Dolan, twisted by her impossible position in the scheme of things but grounded in a sort of pre-hippy wisdom; and Polina, in love for years with the handsome Dr. Dorn, delivered with the nobility he displayed in the role of the Duke of Kent in “King Lear” by Jonathan Hyde. Trevor Nunn and the same “team” from “King Lear” have scored a magnificent triumph with this production. The set is basically the same for both “Lear” and “The Seagull,” lighting design by Neil Austin crucial to establishing scene locales, and music director Jeff Moore has used traditional sounding entre'acts covering set changes to keep the mood focused. There are several more Auckland performances and tickets available for all of them. Larry Jenkins - 20th August 2007    
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