Stunningly ambitious and wildly funny, Chekov’s heartrending masterpiece is reinvented with fewer characters and an added dash of irony in this brash performance that may take place far outside of the festival’s centre, but is very close to the Fringe’s heart.
Originally a tragedy, Seagulls quakes with humour as the intellectuals living on the side of the lake ooze condescension and charm. Every drama exaggerated, a struggling young playwright loses his love to his aging mother’s lover in a series of absurd expressionist encounters. From the moment you walk into the crumbling church, the play reeks of immoderate experimental theatre, from the wooden benches on the stage to the actors dangling from ropes like sleeping puppets. It lacks no indulgence, from sequins and modern pop to nudity and on-stage seduction.
Facetious obsession meets its match in facetious jealousy. Extreme tableaus of alcoholism and heartbreak brilliantly replace dialogue, while eclectic props and the elaborate conversion of the nave into the lake form powerful images that propel the plot forward without plunging the cheeky dialogue into tedious explanations. The set design also introduces 45 tonnes of water onto the stage, adding a shocking new dimension to the play once revealed and allowing for multiple scenes to unfold at once with reflections, splashing and echoes giving the space a surreal quality.
The characters entreat each other for the kindness, companionship, or even attention that they are all too selfish to give. Coy Russian humour is outshone by eccentric; self-obsessed personas whose histrionics fill the vaulting space.
Though Chekov’s ending is intact, the audience is spared any emotional affect by the complete absence of likeable characters. From the flirtatious, to the bold, to the naïve to the tortured each is beautifully performed and none remain unscathed.
Words: Emily Hall
Seagulls, The Leith Volcano, Aug 15-26 (not 21), 6pm