As fringe productions of Chekhov masterpieces go, this is a pretty good one. But an unhelpful albatross of hype accompanies this new version of 'The Seagull'.
That's because it's been adapted by 20-year-old Royal Court protégée Anya Reiss. More than that, it's billed as a 'reimagining' by a writer who has confessed to finding Chekhov dull and outdated. In reality, though, her text is crisp, efficient… and pretty faithful to Chekhov.
It's fun, lithe writing and there are a couple of cute nods to the modern world – it's supposedly set on the Isle of Man, for starters. But in a good year for Chekhov adaptations, Reiss's 'Seagull' simply isn't in the same sparky, spunky league as Mike Poulton's Print Room 'Uncle Vanya' or Benedict Andrews's Young Vic 'Three Sisters'. Crucially, it fails to transcend Russell Bolam's sluggish production.
His 'Seagull' lacks any real sense of time and place, in a way that feels wishy washy rather than pointedly dislocated. Here the sad, absurd creatives that people the play all seem vaguely middle class and English. But beyond some allusions to living on an island, they could basically be anyone, living anywhere.
We can understand why intense young writer Konstantin (Joseph Drake) feels so stifled here, labouring in obscurity at his uncle's home, occasionally having his mediocrity rubbed in his face by his overbearing, insecure actress mother Polina (Julia St John). But any wider sense of small-town English suffocation is missing – after a while it just becomes easier to think of everyone as a fading nineteenth century Russian aristocrat.
Some very good acting enlivens things, notably St John's awful, vulnerable Polina, Anthony Howell's nervily impassioned turn as her lover Trigorin and a great performance from Lily James as terrifyingly naïve ingénue Nina.
This 'Seagull's definitely no turkey – but neither is it the fringe event of the year.