I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Russian classic in modern Britain
It's fitting that for its last production, under its current banner, Manchester's Library Theatre Company is staging a play about theatre itself.
Chekhov's The Seagull was first produced in St Petersburg in 1896. It concerns the failed efforts of Konstantin (Ben Allen) to impress his actress mother Arkadina (Susie Trayling) with a new play he stages for her. The fact that Arkadina has arrived back at the family's country estate with a famous writer, Trigorin (Graeme Hawley), on her arm does nothing to improve Konstantin's humour.
The production also marks the end of Chris Honer's over-20-year tenure as Artistic Director at the Library Theatre. He has spoken about how the play is a personal passion for him and has opted to direct a new version by Anya Reiss. A graduate of the Royal Court's Young Writers' programme, Anya Reiss sets The Seagull in contemporary Britain. Her translation makes the dialogue zip along and both she and Chris Honer maximise the comedy, to counterbalance the tragedy in Chekhov's play.
Having not seen a production of The Seagull before, it's hard to say how radical a shift Anya Reiss's version is, compared to older translations. In contemporary Britain we are not as geographically isolated as nineteenth century Russians and, even on a country estate, you could be connected to the outside world via modern technology. However, the play's focus on celebrity resonates strongly with a twenty first century audience. Sophie Robinson gives a marvellously ditzy performance as aspiring actress Nina first encountering fame, in the form of Trigorin.
Equally, the theme of personal and artistic frustrations is as relevant today as ever. Even in the languid heat, brilliantly rendered in Judith Croft and Nick Richings stage and lighting design, Chekhov's characters are all dissatisfied with their lives, they just deal with it in different ways. His genius is to keep us guessing how much real despair lies beneath their self-dramatising tendencies.
This production of The Seagull is a wonderful chance to see a team of dedicated drama professionals working in harmony to give new wings to a classic play about theatrical and family dysfunction.
The Library Theatre Company was set up at Manchester's Central Library in 1947. The library will re-open on 22nd March, after four years of refurbishment. In 2015 the theatre company will move to a newly created venue at First Street. It will be joined by the Cornerhouse arts centre. HOME, as the new social and cultural hub will be called, will include a theatre, studio space, gallery, cinema screens, a café bar and restaurant.
Walter Meierjohann will take over from current Artistic Director, Chris Honer, to put together a creative programme for HOME.