In Review

The Seagull review: a ‘strangely gripping’ take on Anton Chekhov’s play

Emilia Clarke makes her West End debut alongside a uniformly excellent cast

“There’s something enjoyably ironic about Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke’s choice of West End debut,” said Alice Saville in the London Evening Standard. In a modern and intentionally static staging of Chekhov’s The Seagull, she plays the “aspiring-but-untalented” actress Nina, who “beams” with delight when told she could make it in films one day. In real life, of course, it’s Clarke’s screen fame that has helped “pack out” this “uncompromising” production.

Clarke has undeniable charisma, and she’s not the only good thing about the production, staged by “super-director” Jamie Lloyd. Among a uniformly excellent cast, Daniel Monks is “compellingly unlikeable” as Konstantin, the would-be playwright who is obsessed with Nina; and Indira Varma is “mesmerising” as Konstantin’s actress mother, Arkadina.

In Lloyd’s production, Chekhovian naturalism has been banished, said David Benedict in Variety. There are no samovars nor sense of bustling Russian life. Instead, the set is a harshly lit chipboard box; the actors are all similarly dressed and sit in matching plastic chairs.

The thrill of Chekhov is that every character is “rivetingly alive”; yet here, the performances are flattened by a “one-size-fits-all slow, over-deliberate delivery” through microphones.

It is a “maverick” approach that yields mixed results, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. There are times when it feels a bit like “The Seagull With Zombies – mannered, frustrating, both too drawn and drawled out”. But individual scenes are “compelling and powerful”; and the evening overall is “strangely gripping”. 

It didn’t grip me, said Clive Davis in The Times. Lloyd used similar aesthetics for his “glorious reinvention” of Cyrano de Bergerac starring James McAvoy. But whereas his “hip-hop Cyrano pulsated with physicality and testosterone”, the mood of “ineffectual ennui” here is just oppressive. With much of the dialogue delivered sotto voce, it feels like a poorly produced radio play. A bold experiment, maybe; but a failed one.

Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St, SW1Y 4DN until 10 September

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