1 December 2012

The Seagull at the Southwark Playhouse

I seem to have acquired the habit of seeing plays on the last day of their runs, and so it was for The Seagull at the Southward Playhouse.

That is mostly down to my lack of planning so I get to hear about good productions only once they are well in to their runs and my frequent working away means that my trips to the theatre are confined to the weekend, which is when runs end.

I wanted to see The Seagull as it completed by recent run of the Chekhov classics, was getting good reviews (usually four stars, not that I approve of star rating schemes) and it was an excuse to try a new theatre.

The Southwark Playhouse sits in the shadow of the Shard just to the east of London Bridge Station. This is office land but there is enough life their at the weekend to justify keeping most of the restaurants open, including a rather splendid bistro more-or-less across the road from the theatre.

It was free seating at the theatre so I got in their promptly only to find it in bit of a shambles. There were two shows on in the theatre that night which meant that the bar was too busy to make it worth fighting for a drink and the queue for the show that started first blocked the bar and the passageway to the main theatre. We managed to form a reasonably orderly queue only to discover that another one had formed out of the front door so we were not as close to the front as we though.

Somehow I still managed to get the hoped-for seat in the front row.

This was a modern adaptation though, not having seen the original, it was hard to discern much modern about it. A more experienced theatre goer (more on that later) told me during the interval that the only difference was that they had swapped references to Moscow for London.

The Seagull is familiar Chekhov territory, put a diverse group of people in to a familiar domestic situation, add a little pressure, and mix. Some of the characters are reused from other Chekhov plays, such as the teacher who is disappointing husband and the old ineffective doctor.

The pressure comes from an cross-generation (for those times) romance and the young man frustrated by another's success.

Along the way a seagull gets shot, gets stuffed and becomes a metaphor.

This is Chekhov so emotions sway and the mood is turbulent. There is laughter, surprises, angst and it does not end well for everybody.

I liked the production and the large cast were superb. Matthew Kelly was the only name known to me and he had just a cameo role as the Paracetamol prescribing doctor.

This was a Seagull well worth making the effort to see.

The icing on the cake was spotting Dudley Sutton in the audience, most of whom were far to young to have seen him in Lovejoy let alone any of his earlier works like Under Milk Wood, and carefully manoeuvring a conversation with him at the interval - he was the source of the Moscow/London comment made earlier.

Despite the chaos in the queue and the bar before the show this was another superb evening that demonstrated just what London Theatre can do off the west-end when it puts its mind to it.

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