Theatre review: The Seagull at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The Seagull. Picture: Johan Persson

The Seagull. Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

This Chekhov update is a bold reimagining of our times, says Marianka Swain.

Art imitates life in Chekhov’s tale of parasitic creatives, and on opening night in Regent’s Park, the reverse also came to pass when a resident moorhen waddled over to greet the dead seagull. It’s a compliment to Matthew Dunster, who fully embeds the Russian tale in our north London park, while Torben Betts’s sparky free adaptation gives the 120-year-old work an effortlessly contemporary feel.

Jon Bausor’s striking design is dominated by a giant angled mirror, highlighting the prevailing narcissism. Fading diva Arkadina and her clan use love to inflate their egos, seeing the preferred version of themselves reflected in those who adore them.

Any threats to self-image must be extinguished, hence Arkadina callously crushing her aspiring playwright son Konstantin because his new type of theatre renders her irrelevant. Janie Dee delivers a memorably toxic creation, absurdly flexing her lithe limbs in a show of girlishness, skilfully manipulating her lover and posing as rather than being a caring mother. She no longer recognises the distinction between reality and artifice.

Nor does Konstantin, preaching the theatre of truth but only able to produce tortured symbolic indulgence. In contrast, Dunster’s production is overly broad at times, with explicit editorialising via eye-rolling servants, but it comes closer to following Hamlet’s instruction to hold “the mirror up to nature” – figuratively as well as literally. It’s an effective interpretation of Chekhov’s most overt homage to the Bard.

Matthew Tennyson’s frail, oversensitive Konstantin impresses, as do Alex Robertson’s egotistical writer, Ian Redford’s florid uncle, Lisa Diveney’s seething alcoholic, Sabrina Bartlett’s impulsive actress, Colin Hoult’s ignored teacher and Danny Webb’s pensive doctor.

This is Chekhov with real 21st-century bite, attacking the hollowness and corrosiveness of celebrity. Another bold offering in a strong Open Air season.

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Rating: 4/5 stars