Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Romping through the leaves at Walpole Park, Ealing

I tried to book a ticket for the RSC production of King Lear some time back. Even though it's been long sold out ( as I belatedly discover ), the booking agencies don't declare this on their web sites. Irritatingly you have to be informed of this in person after sitting in a phone queue for 20 minutes.

In lieu of this, I booked for the RSC's alternate repertory staging of The Seagull (1894), which was to be my first experience of a Chekhov play. Sir Ian McKellen plays the secondary role of Sorin in what must seem a welcome break after taking the lead in Lear, and with far fewer costume changes than his turn as Widow Twanky in Aladdin (2005).

For this night's performance, Frances Barber was unable to appear as Arkadina, so a rearrangement of understudied roles brought Melanie Jessop into the role, and I didn't feel shortchanged in the least with such a masterful performance. I liked Monica Dolan as Masha and Joanathan Hyde as Dr Dorn, but found Romola Garai's Nina a bit too strident. The thrust stage meant that some dialogue completely inaudible when the actors were facing away, and the overly warm theatre made me very drowsy in the first act. I had a horribly similar experience with the Bell Shakespeare production of Hamlet "in the round" on a hot Sydney night - the large fans brought in to ventilate the room made the play totally inaudible even when the cast were facing my side of the stage.

I haven't worked through all the symbolism of the play, but at the time I couldn't help comparing the chain of partially/unrequited love Medvenko -> Masha -> Konstantin -> Nina -> Trigorin to sea-birds, each following a boat, and diving in for a peck of food when opportunity availed.

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