The Seagull

Soulpepper's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 PLAYS Series

Soulpepper

Joe Szekeres

Onward to the next stop in Russia on Soulpepper’s audio drama journey with Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ and an adaptation by Simon Stephens.

This is another classic play title of which I’ve heard but neither read nor have seen it performed live. I was curious about this ‘The Seagull’ as I understand trained actors consider it one of Chekhov’s finest. Do make sure before the audio play begins to click on the EXTEND YOUR STAY and listen to the conversation between the director of this production, Daniel Brooks, as he speaks to Soulpepper’s Emma Stenning, Soulpepper’s Executive Director about the conceiving of his vision (which was to have been staged live before the pandemic was declared and theatres shut down worldwide). Personally, I find this extra information helpful in providing context to understand the story whether it be historical, character, or directorial for example.

Soulpepper’s production of ‘The Seagull’ with an adaptation by Simon Stephens is thankfully a contemporary version of the text, especially since this is my introduction to Chekhov’s classic. We meet a nervous but excited Konstantin (Paolo Santalucia) who prepares to unveil his play to a family estate gathering of rather eccentric individuals whose stories and love lives begin to intertwine. Konstantin has written this play for Nina (Hailey Gillis) who nervously arrives before the play starts because she is to perform Konstantin’s work in front of his mother and successful actress, Irina (Kristen Thomson).

Nina is also nervous because she is to perform in front of celebrated writer, Boris (Gregory Prest) who is in a relationship with Irina. We also meet a teacher, Simeon (Alex McCooeye) who is in love with the estate manager’s daughter, Marcia [pronounced Masha] (Ghazal Azarbad). Marcia is in love with Konstantin.
Rounding out this gathering of individuals is Pauline (Raquel Duffy), wife of the estate manager Leo (Sugith Varughese). Pauline reveals she is in love with Hugo (Stuart Hughes), the doctor. We also meet Irina’s brother, Peter (Oliver Dennis) and workman, Jacob (Dan Mousseau).

Once again, many top notch and terrific artists vocally and naturally tell this Chekhovian tale of unrequited love, success, fame (in writing and in the theatre), and mental health vigorously and passionately while thankfully never veering into the melodramatic as was so often found in the theatre before Chekhov first staged his plays. Some standouts for me included the vocal work of Messrs. Santalucia, Prest, and Hughes with as equally balanced work from Ms. Gillis, Ms. Thomson, and Ms. Duffy. Daniel Brooks’ vision as Director carefully brought moments of personal touches of humour as the story builds and concludes with extremely heavy drama.

This time, however, there was something missing for me in this audio presentation format that, on account of Covid, could not be helped.

One comment Mr. Brooks made in his discussion with Ms. Stenning in the EXTEND YOUR STAY introduction remained with me as I listened to the audio drama immediately following.

He said,
“A fully embodied performance that manifests in a full voice that is almost operatic is meaningful. But in an audio, without the body, without the context of the body in space in relationship to an audience, in relationship to other actors, I felt that I had to seek a different path. I felt I had to seek a different path, and the purity of the text was foremost…”

For me, this audio drama didn’t feel truly complete as several moments screamed that I needed to see the expressions on the characters’ faces. For example, one moment would be the other characters in their responses to Nina’s performance in Act One, and another moment would be in the extremely dramatic and highly sensitive moments in Act Four at the play’s conclusion.

FINAL COMMENTS: By no means is Soulpepper’s production of ‘The Seagull’ not worth listening to it. Yes, give it a listen as you will hear some fine artists at work using their gifted vocal abilities and talents. Emma Stenning did let the listeners know that Daniel Brooks was in her office in preparation for the staging of this production of ‘The Seagull’ before theatres were shut down.

Let’s hope this production and these fine artists will get their chance to show all of us the power of this story. I will be looking forward to that time with much anticipation.

THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov with an adaptation by Simon Stephens plays on the Soulpepper website until June 30, 2021. To gain access and learn more, visit www.soulpepper.ca.

Directed by Daniel Brooks.

Actors: Ghazal Azarbad, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Hailey Gillis, Stuart Hughes, Dan Mousseau, Gregory Prest, Paolo Santalucia, Kristen Thomson, Sugith Varughese,

Photo provided by Soulpepper Theatre

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