Set around a ‘lake of spells’ eight characters tangled in a web of unrequited love struggle to avoid their pre-destined futures. A frustrated Konstantin wrestles with the problem of art, trying to break free of its stifling conventions, though despairing at the realisation that “new forms, always become old patterns”. Disgusted by the theatre- its morals, traditions, ideas and fame culture- he writes his own play inspired by the heart, but his bizarre avant-garde play is rejected by his mother’s famous intellectual friends who fail to see through the stifling “stranglehold of art”.
As the seagull metaphorically circles the lake one is reminded of the friction between free will and destiny. A twisted version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, here the characters do not follow the generic route of the love story, but instead end incorrectly coupled and melancholy. We are left to wonder, does a self-determined life lead to happiness?
As expected from a script by Chekhov, a heavy dialogue dominates the play. Happily, long conversations about life and art are freed from becoming monotonous by the energy of the actors, whose capacity to engross the audience with their individual torments enlivens the dialogue. The second half contains more action and slowly increases in pace climaxing in a single moment of disaster.
The staging of the play contrasts interior and exterior space. We are constantly reminded of the metaphor of the lake, and the backdrop of the woods is evocative of one of Chekhov’s favourite themes, conservation. In the second half rain replaces the backdrop and the soundtrack of the thunderstorm engulfs the actors within a claustrophobic world, where their submersion in a world of water returns us back to the metaphor of the lake.
Though there is the occasional chuckle, this play is not rife with humour. If you are planning a night of light-hearted escapism from the stresses of exams, you may be disappointed. I was left moved, and with plenty to think about, although I have to blame the play for my increased stress levels, having been left pondering what the seagull flying ahead actually represents. Any ideas?