The Seagull at Chichester Festival Theatre

Anna Chancellor in rehearsals for The Seagull.
Anna Chancellor in rehearsals for The Seagull.
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Chekhov’s The Seagull has been labelled the play which marks the birth of the modern stage.

Anna Chancellor, who returns to Chichester Festival Theatre for the venue’s Young Chekhov season, certainly wouldn’t disagree.

You have got the emotion of the story and the technique in the telling which are completely at one. You can tell it is the work of genius

Anna Chancellor on The Seagull

‘You could say that Picasso was the great innovator of modern art, though obviously there were lots of other people involved,’ says Anna, who plays Arkadina in The Seagull (Sept 28-Nov 14).

‘And clearly it is the same thing with Chekhov. New things were happening. New things happen all the time.’

The Chichester season comprises Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull, with Anna appearing in just the one.

‘It’s just the way it worked out. There was not an obvious part for me in the others, partly to do with casting and age maybe.’

But with the one company performing all three, Anna says she kept an eye on rehearsals for the other two – not so much because you need to know them to understand The Seagull, more a question of keeping in tune with the company spirit and the way the company was developing.

‘When I read the other two, I thought they were wonderful. Platonov is different in that David Hare has very much worked his magic on it. His mark is very, very clear on that play.

‘When I read Ivanov, I thought it was a fantastic play, but actually, I didn’t realise, until I started to live inside it, just how brilliant The Seagull is.

‘It is to do with the technique that he has developed, the form of the play that is so completely married to the telling of the story.

‘You have got the emotion of the story and the technique in the telling which are completely at one. You can tell it is the work of genius.

‘Also, I think his character is really present in the plays. I am sure he is the kind of person that finds things compellingly interesting and he loves the detail of what makes a person a person.

‘He finds that very moving and very irritating and very funny. He has the ability to see the human race for what it is, tragic and funny and deeply flawed. You get the feeling of the absurdity of the human race with Chekhov.’

Anna hasn’t done Chekhov since drama school, but she appeared in a Strindberg (The Creditors, directed by Alan Rickman) and certainly sees parallels.

‘Strindberg gets crazier and crazier, but there are resonances. But what I feel is that Chekhov really mines himself. I feel there is a lot of self-excavation going on, that he is laughing at himself, that he is really drawing on himself…’

Anna will be hoping for success similar to that she enjoyed a couple of years ago in the Minerva with Private Lives, a genuine magic moment.

‘I suppose it is alchemy really. It’s a group of people coming together at the right time. It’s the people. Of course, it was Noel Coward, but it was the people together in Noel Coward’s writing. It was the group that we were at that time. That’s what theatre is like. It’s something you can’t put your finger on. You could have the most brilliant actors and the most brilliant director, and it still might not work. There is just never a surefire formula…’

The theatre was what Anna trained for.

‘I have to say that really I started off by doing a lot of very low-brow TV. But I used to go for theatre auditions and I would never, ever get the job. I used to laugh about it. However obscure the part, I still wouldn’t get it, so in some ways I was a slightly late starter in the theatre.’

Visit cft.org.uk for more information.