Review: The Seagull at Chichester Festival Theatre

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov was performed alongside Ivanov and Platonov, two of his earlier plays, as part of Chichester Festival Theatre's Young Chekhov project. Credit: Johan Persson
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov was performed alongside Ivanov and Platonov, two of his earlier plays, as part of Chichester Festival Theatre's Young Chekhov project. Credit: Johan Persson
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Considered Chekhov’s breakthrough play, The Seagull was the closing show in a trio of the writer’s earliest theatrical works that were performed on Saturday.

First performed in 1896, the play dramatises the romantic and artistic conflicts of the four main characters: Irina Arkadina, a famous actress clinging onto her youth, her son Konstantin, a fledgling playwright who seeks the approval of his mother’s artistic circle – which includes her lover, the respected writer Boris Trigorin – and Nina Zarechnaya, the daughter of a rich landowner who dreams of being an actress.

As Irina Arkadina, Anna Chancellor captured the erratic emotions of the ageing actress. Credit: Johan Persson

As Irina Arkadina, Anna Chancellor captured the erratic emotions of the ageing actress. Credit: Johan Persson

This is a play about the art of acting – and writing – as a way of human expression, of understanding the world and the people who live in it. So the performances had to be good – and on the whole, they were.

Anna Chancellor had the showiest role as Irina, and she threw herself into the character’s artistic temperament. Her emotional range was almost schizophrenic: she would veer from anger to desperation, affection and childish glee in the space of a few minutes, and found the humour in every transition.

In contrast, Nina was the catalyst for the play’s drama and its tragic conclusion – which seemed inevitable but still made the audience jump.

Her transformation from ingenue to outcast is seen in her final conversation with Konstantin (played without pretence by Joshua James), but Olivia Vinall’s delivery here was at times over-emoted.

It isn’t an easy watch, particularly the long first half, but for a thought-provoking evening it is worth a few hours of your time

As is to be expected from Chichester Festival Theatre, the production values were impressive with walls rising from the floor and a lake onstage, but it is the secondary to the performance.

It isn’t an easy watch, particularly the long first half, but for a thought-provoking evening it is worth a few hours of your time.

Until November 14.