Trevor Nunn’s twin productions of The Seagull and King Lear are now dovetailing at the New London Theatre, just as they did in Stratford’s Courtyard Theatre as the last gasp of the RSC’s year-long Complete Works Festival, prior to a world tour that took in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the States.
On a night that Ian McKellen was not playing and Frances Barber was having one of her frequent nights off (unannounced by the theatre), the performance was lacking in star performances, although there was the solid presence of some experienced company members.
William Gaunt, who shares the role with McKellen, is excellent as Sorin, bringing battered world-weariness and a few sympathetic laughs to the old man slipping slowly away. It’s good to see Jonathan Hyde back at the RSC with a charming and consonant Dorn, the doctor who all turn to for comfort and a wise word.
There’s strong support from Guy Williams, a bumpkinish estate manager, desperate to be one of the in-crowd, and Ben Meyjes as an endearingly awkward Medvedenko, mediocrity bubbling out of him like water from a broken tap. Monica Dolin’s alcoholic Masha is strange and severe, quite touching in her near-lunacy as, like so many in this play, she craves the one person she can’t have.
Nunn’s direction tends towards the leisurely and the reliance on inexperienced actors during Nina and Konstantin’s final confrontation starts to make the evening feel very long. Romola Garai lacks technical proficiency, flapping her hands wildly, but has a certain other-worldiness, while a fresh-faced Richard Goulding hits the right note of exasperated aspiration early on but then sticks with it. Together the two of them just don’t convince as people who, though still young, have been through their separate mills since the play began.
Gerald Kyd’s Trigorin is handsome but dull and there’s some sudsidence when he’s on. The understudy Melanie Jessop gave a thoroughly competent performance as the self-obssessed Arkadina, representative of a production that casts no fresh insights on Chekov’s melancholy world of frustrated lovers and struggling artists, fragments of a system lurching towards transformation.
Christopher Oram’s elegant sets flow effortlessly between interior and exterior and the ever-present peeling curved wall and tall pine trunks present a pleasing backdrop, evoking lake as well as deteriorating social fabric. The lack of a proscenium arch in the New London aids access to this claustrophobic world.
There’s not a lot actually wrong with this Seagull but, even with the added boost of its missing stars, it’s unlikely to be one that lives in the memory.