This Dublin Theatre Festival, The Corn Exchange have staged a modernised adaptation of The Seagull at the Gaiety Theatre. Directed and rewritten by Annie Ryan and Michael West, this modest update brings the story to 2016 with contemporary costumes, references and colloquial Irishisms. The central character, playwright Konstantin Treplev is here recast as Constance, tortured by her unrequited love for Nina and her troubled relationship with her mother.
Paul O’Mahony’s set design is an impressionistic, verdant backdrop with minimal, well-chosen country-house furnishings. Costumes by Saileóg O’Halloran go a long way towards making this version aesthetically modern, with a grunge Constance, hipster Trigorin and an Arkadina and Dr. Dorn dressed head-to-toe in Marks and Spencer. Lighting design by Sinéad Wallace and music and sound design by Tom Lane take a back seat, but are without fault. Jane McGrath’s performance of her original song ‘Scrap Shell’ makes a welcome change of tone.
In general, the older actors fare better. Stephen Brennan shows his experience as the ailing, regretful Sorin; he is naturally funny and tender, a pleasure to watch. Derbhle Crotty is similarly commanding as the affected, melodramatic Arkadina. Louis Lovett is perfectly cast as Dr. Dorn, capturing the essence of an ‘I’m-still-sexy’ mid-life crisis. Stephen Mullan’s Medvedenko is a hapless country teacher. Genevieve Hulme-Beaman is a fragile and fey Nina and Imogen Doel is a grumpy adolescent Masha, her mother Paulina quietly played by Anna Healy.
The Corn Exchange’s version prioritises the comedic side of Chekhov’s writing with varying success. Other than the tragic narrative elements, it struggles to find an edge. In spite of a committed performance by Jane McGrath, Constance’s fate falls flat, her angst dwarfed by the comedy of every other scene. The energy and pacing are better in the second half, but in general the play lags. The actors handle the text extremely well, but the characters are just too bourgeois and self-involved to care about, excepting Stephen Brennan’s Sorin. I don’t believe that Chekhov’s work has lost its relevance, but this retelling left me cold.