Almost as soon as the applause had finished for The Depot's production of The Seagull - playing until the 16th December and directed by Anthony Skuse - I recalled the sayings, repeated many a time from many a source, of the need to separate the art from the artist, the music from the composer and the actor from their work. An obvious example being Wagner's music and Wagner, the man and his perverse political views. I cannot agree more, especially when Chekov decided to turn the mirror - amplified by the mirrored wall set of Kyle Jonsson - on the artist and the creators of art.
Perhaps in our time of celebrities baring all on talk shows and want to be celebrities amusing us with their synapse to mouth misfirings we are not as shocked as audiences were at the opening of this play in 1895. But nonetheless, it still resonates with Skuse's gritty and sensitive direction. These are selfish people, bouncing off each other to get what they want or what they think they want. The quandary is that how can artists write work of such insight and sensitivity but in their life be the opposite.
The play is set on a country estate owned by retired civil servant Sorin - played with a wonderful mixture of comic pathos and kindness by Alan Faulkner. He hates the country and the life he's lived. His nephew, Konstantin - sensitively played by James Smithers - is a tortured soul with an Oedipal desire to win the love and praise of his fading star mother, Arkadina.
After his mother mocks his play staring his love interest Nina, played by Jane Angharad, you know that the fuse has been lit. Deborah Galanos portrayal of Arkadina is wonderful. She is sexy, narcissistic, cruel, miserly, and energised by fear. No one is taking the spotlight from her, not her son, or the want to be actor and aspirational Nina. In a nod to Hamlet, Konstantin tries to destroy the relationship his mother has with writer, Trigorin. He pleads with her, attempts suicided, challenges Trigorin to a duel but to no effect and to add salt to the wound, Nina falls for Trigorin and resolves to move to Moscow to be with him.
Abe Mitchell does a great job as the self-absorbed writer, Trigorin, forever walking around with his notepad, obsessively jotting down his thoughts. At heart, he is a cruel man and a good match for Arkadina. When Nina inspires him to write a short story he says it is about a girl who lives by the lake and loves it and is free just as a seagull and along comes a man who destroys her because he is bored.
She should have taken that as a warning, for in the final act we find out that Nina's and Trigorin's lived together and had a child together which died and he left her to return to Arkadina and Nina is left to work in second-rate travelling theatre group. This self absorption and destruction spreads throughout the play, whether it is the estate manager's daughter Masha played by Charmaine Bingwa who marries the whining local schoolteacher played by Shan-Ree Tan, whom she doesn't love to get it out the way with and to forget her infatuation with Konstantin or the doctor, Dorn, played philosophically by Paul Armstrong who is having an affair with the estate manager's wife, Polina, played by Leilani Loau, and who pleads with him to take her away. It seems as though the only character who was selfless and had dignity was the seagull that Konstantin killed and presented to Nina.
Matthew Bartlett's music is haunting and dissonant and aptly reflects lives which are lost and forever destructively meandering.