The Seagull

Performance history

Premiere in St. Petersburg

The first night of The Seagull on 17 October 1896 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petersburg was a disaster, booed by the audience. The hostile audience intimidated Vera Komissarzhevskaya who had lost her voice. Some considered her the best actor in Russia and who, according to Chekhov, had moved people to tears as Nina in rehearsal.[2] The next day, Chekhov, who had taken refuge backstage for the last two acts, announced to Suvorin that he was finished with writing plays.[6] When supporters assured him that later performances were more successful, Chekhov assumed they were just being kind. The Seagull impressed the playwright and friend of Chekhov Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, however, who said Chekhov should have won the Griboyedov prize that year for The Seagull instead of himself.[7]

Moscow Art Theatre production

Nemirovich overcame Chekhov's refusal to allow the play to appear in Moscow and convinced Stanislavski to direct the play for their innovative and newly founded Moscow Art Theatre in 1898.[9] Stanislavski prepared a detailed directorial score, which indicated when the actors should "wipe away dribble, blow their noses, smack their lips, wipe away sweat, or clean their teeth and nails with matchsticks", as well as organising a tight control of the overall mise en scène.[10] This approach was intended to facilitate the unified expression of the inner action that Stanislavski perceived to be hidden beneath the surface of the play in its subtext.[11] Stanislavski's directorial score was published in 1938.[12]

Stanislavski played Trigorin, while Vsevolod Meyerhold, the future director and practitioner (whom Stanislavski on his death-bed declared to be "my sole heir in the theatre"), played Konstantin, and Olga Knipper (Chekhov's future wife) played Arkadina.[13] The production opened on 17 December 1898 with a sense of crisis in the air in the theatre; most of the actors were mildly self-tranquilised with Valerian drops.[14] In a letter to Chekhov, one audience member described how:

In the first act something special started, if you can so describe a mood of excitement in the audience that seemed to grow and grow. Most people walked through the auditorium and corridors with strange faces, looking as if it were their birthday and, indeed, (dear God I'm not joking) it was perfectly possible to go up to some completely strange woman and say: "What a play? Eh?"[15]

Nemirovich described the applause, which came after a prolonged silence, as bursting from the audience like a dam breaking.[16] The production received unanimous praise from the press.[16]

It was not until 1 May 1899 that Chekhov saw the production, in a performance without sets but in make-up and costumes at the Paradiz Theatre.[17] He praised the production but was less keen on Stanislavski's own performance; he objected to the "soft, weak-willed tone" in his interpretation (shared by Nemirovich) of Trigorin and entreated Nemirovich to "put some spunk into him or something".[18] He proposed that the play be published with Stanislavski's score of the production's mise en scène.[19] Chekhov's collaboration with Stanislavski proved crucial to the creative development of both men. Stanislavski's attention to psychological realism and ensemble playing coaxed the buried subtleties from the play and revived Chekhov's interest in writing for the stage. Chekhov's unwillingness to explain or expand on the script forced Stanislavski to dig beneath the surface of the text in ways that were new in theatre.[20] The Moscow Art Theatre to this day bears the seagull as its emblem to commemorate the historic production that gave it its identity.[21]

Recent productions

Uta Hagen made her Broadway debut as Nina, at the age of 18, in a production with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in 1938 at the Shubert Theatre.

In November 1992, a Broadway staging directed by Marshall W. Mason opened at Lyceum Theatre, New York. The production starred Tyne Daly as Arkadina, Ethan Hawke as Treplyov, Jon Voight as Trigorin, and Laura Linney as Nina.

The Joseph Papp Public Theater presented Chekhov's play as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival summer season in Central Park from July 25, 2001 to August 26, 2001. The production, directed by Mike Nichols, starred Meryl Streep as Arkadina, Christopher Walken as Sorin, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Treplyov, John Goodman as Shamrayev, Marcia Gay Harden as Masha, Kevin Kline as Trigorin, Debra Monk as Polina, Stephen Spinella as Medvedenko, and Natalie Portman as Nina.

In early 2007, the Royal Court Theatre staged a production of The Seagull starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina, Mackenzie Crook as Treplyov and Carey Mulligan as Nina. It also featured Chiwetel Ejiofor and Art Malik. The production was directed by Ian Rickson, and received great reviews, including The Metro Newspaper calling it "practically perfect". It ran from January 18 to March 17, and Scott Thomas won an Olivier Award for her performance.

In 2007/2008, a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company toured internationally before coming into residence at the West End's New London Theatre until 12 January 2008. It starred William Gaunt and Ian McKellen as Sorin (who alternated with William Gaunt in the role, as McKellen also played the title role in King Lear), Richard Goulding as Treplyov, Frances Barber as Arkadina, Jonathan Hyde as Dorn, Monica Dolan as Masha, and Romola Garai as Nina. Garai in particular received rave reviews, The Independent calling her a "woman on the edge of stardom",[22] and the London Evening Standard calling her "superlative", and stating that the play was "distinguished by the illuminating, psychological insights of Miss Garai's performance."[23]

The Classic Stage Company in New York City revived the work on 13 March 2008 in a production of Paul Schmidt's translation directed by Viacheslav Dolgachev. This production was notable for the casting of Dianne Wiest in the role of Arkadina, and Alan Cumming as Trigorin.

On 16 September 2008 the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway began previews of Ian Rickson's production of The Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas reprising her role as Arkadina. The cast also included Peter Sarsgaard as Trigorin, Mackenzie Crook as Treplyov, Art Malik as Dorn, Carey Mulligan as Nina, Zoe Kazan as Masha, and Ann Dowd as Polina.[24]

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival staged Seagull in the New Theater from 22 February until 22 June 2012, adapted and directed by Libby Appel.[25] Al Espinosa was cast as Trigorin, Tasso Feldman as Konstantin, Michael J. Hume as Sorin, Kathryn Meisle as Irina, Nell Geisslinger as Nina, John Pribyl as Shamrayev, Kate Hurster as Masha, Jonathan Dyrud as Medvedenko, and Lisa Wolpe as Polina. The performance of Seagull "lingers long in your thoughts.[26]

In 2014, a translation into Afrikaans under the title Die seemeeu, directed by Christiaan Olwagen and starring Sandra Prinsloo, was staged at the Aardklop arts festival in Potchefstroom.[27]

In October 2014 it was announced that the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre would present a new version of The Seagull by Torben Betts in 2015.[28]

In March 2015, Hurrah Hurrah and the Hot Blooded Theatre Company presented The Seagull in an unused shop-front with the help of The Rocks Pop-up. [29]

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