Immersive theatre at its finest, using the space that is allocated in the well-talked about and gorgeous Volcano on Constitution St, Seagulls is experimental, meta and evocative. Bringing the Fringe down to the bottom of Leith, near the links, it felt somewhat defiant in its nature, partly for being outwith the Fringe’s more general catchment area, but also due to the style of performance.
Flocking down to visit atmospheric former St James’ Church in Leith, renamed the Leith Volcano for the Fringe as part of an ongoing partnership between Volcano and The Biscuit Factory, I really had no idea what to expect. I certainly did not anticipate walking into the church to find four performers dangling in the air by ropes, and I was very soon told that no flash photography or filming was permitted as there was an element of risk involved in what we are about to see next.
This visceral adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play, The Seagull, is highly physical – we witness the actors engage in wrestling matches, climb the walls and swing on ropes. This often makes for rather uncomfortable viewing from out seats in this old derelict church.
Director Paul Davies’ production pares down the cast from nine in the original play to just five whilst maintaining the complex series of love triangles and focusing the action around key moments. Irina, who is introduced to us noisily hitting the ground with her high heels, is all set to be a strong and dynamic character whilst her lover and playwright, Trigorn is more subtle with his introduction, a sign of things to come. Konstantin, Irina’s son, is also a playwright, while Nina is easily swayed and fickle with her love. Then there is family physician Dr Dorn, around whom these lives and loves collide.
Seagulls retains the dysfunctional, poignant temperament of Chekhovian drama, whilst also bringing to the forefront a slapstick humour and absurdity with an air of bluntness. With music such as Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash or I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra, underscoring this production, this absurdity continues.
The play, the adaptation, the setting; all of it makes you feel somewhat voyeuristic as you sit on the sidelines of these couples tearing to pieces, with sheer desperation and loneliness being at the heart of the whole affair. Being dragged up by the actors to witness the demise of Nina and Konstantin as she mocks him for his efforts as a playwright heightens this uncomfortable feeling in the audience and by the end of the performance there is a notable sigh of relief.