The Play this time:
“The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov – in a new translation by David Hare
Anton Chekhov is one of the undisputed masters of world drama. He is usually thought to hide himself behind his characters and stories, keeping his own personality well off-stage. But when he was young he wrote three plays - Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull - which, with their thrilling sunbursts of youthful anger and romanticism, reveal a very different playwright from the one known by his mature, more familiar. Each shows a writer progressively freeing himself from the constraints of nineteenth-century melodrama and heralds the shift into the twentieth century, and the birth of the modern stage. The Seagull premiered as part of the Young Chekhov season at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the autumn of 2015 in a new translation by acclaimed British dramatist David Hare (Plenty, Skylight, The Reader). The play is to an extent meta-theatrical in that it features a play performance and is an example of symbolist theatre in the symbolism of the seagull, which stands for the idea of a life destroyed wilfully. On a summer’s day in a makeshift theatre by a lake, Konstantin’s cutting-edge new play is performed, changing the lives of everyone involved forever. Chekhov’s masterly meditation on how the old take revenge on the young is both comic and tragic, and marks the birth of the modern stage.
The Seagull, a work that the author himself claimed contained "five tons of love," is a play about a very human tendency to reject love that is freely given and seek it where it is withheld. Many of its characters are caught in a destructive, triangular relationship that evokes both pathos and humor. What the characters cannot successfully parry is the destructive force of time, the passage of which robs some, like Madame Arkadina, of beauty, and others, like her son Konstantin, of hope. When the play was first staged, in St. Petersburg in 1896, it was very badly received. Audiences were simply not ready to accept a work that seemed to violate almost all dramatic conventions, a play that, for example, had no clear protagonist or an easily identified moral conflict or characters who rigorously kept to points relevant to that conflict in their dialogue. For Chekhov, the response was devastating. There seemed to be no audience prepared to welcome the "new forms" championed by one of the play's characters, the young writer Konstantin Treplyov. Two years later, when it was staged by the Moscow Art Theatre in Moscow, The Seagull was an absolute triumph, and launched Chekhov's career as a dramatist, a career that would supersede his fame as an equally innovative writer of short stories, and be cut short by his early death at the age of 44. David Hare's modern version is updated and highly accessible to contemporary readers and audiences.
Come and enjoy the play as a reading. All welcome. There is no need to read if you don't wish to. If you prefer, you are welcome just to listen. However, all who wish to read will have the opportunity to do so.
Facilitator: Mr Julian Quail.