now look here
Metro Arts Warehouse
March 3 – 14 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
It’s Chekhov, but not as you know it…
“You can’t do Chekhov with bad actors.” Director, Kate Wild
“I”M SO UNHAPPY!” #sochekhov
I know of three productions of The Seagull happening this year in Brisbane alone. QUT (April 22 – May 2), QTC (August 29 – September 26) and now look here (until March 14) are all indulging in a bit of a Chekhov Crush. And I can understand why. We love Chekhov’s language, we love his dismal characters, the hopelessness of everyday life and the shrewd and sorry observations that we laugh about…so we won’t cry. There is tragedy in each fleeting moment of comedy, and there’s never a happy ending. Chekhov’s intensive study of the humdrum and dull horror of daily life makes me grateful for the abundance of love and joyful activity in my own.
AND particularly with the guidance of an intelligent and insightful director, Chekhov is glorious food for actors.
Chekhov is to actors what Colin Fassnidge is to foodies #usethewholepig
In this case, our director is also writer, adapting the original text over the course of an intriguing year, which involved workshops with various actors. (In fact, Kate Wild tells me after the show that amendments were being made right up until opening night!).
This adaptation impresses me greatly, and learning about Wild’s association with London’s Young Vic doesn’t surprise me at all, since it’s the NT Live productions that consistently show us how a classic can successfully be reimagined for contemporary audiences. Wild’s version of Chekhov’s classic is pared back and relies on the actors’ ability to present real characters, really. No, REALLY. There’s nothing that is surface level, no token anything here. Deeply inspired performances, which come directly from the text (just as Mamet wishes), mean we are privy to a new world of old-school values; it’s the same dysfunctional family but shown in more modern light. The language and the references are updated so that a whole new audience might not even think to question the origin of the play. The contemporary outback setting is about as far removed from 1800s Russia as we can get, however; it’s not dissimilar. Created with nothing more than a curtain, a table and chairs, some lamps and three white curved timber structures, which become walls and door frames and seats and a bed, the scene is sensitively, economically realised, and is made all the more poignant in the suddenly silent, extremely small space of the 4th floor Warehouse in the Heritage listed Metro Arts building on Edward Street (Designer Gordon Fletcher). It’s as if we’re in the room with them. It’s salon theatre in disguise…
Wild told scenstr, “I’ve seen a lot of innovative work, a lot of very creative directors doing a lot of very exciting things. But I felt I wasn’t seeing a lot of text-based theatre being done very centrally with a very simple sort of aim of telling a story. So I think I needed to show what theatre could be like if we went back to the basics and I made it very writer and actor led rather than maybe led by the concept of a director.”
Wild fills the gap with this production, a beautifully configured statement on the value of reinvention whilst simultaneously honouring theatrical form and tradition and never losing sight of the story. The cast is superb, with fine performances from Louise Brehmer, Michael Forde, Matthew Filkins, Pip Boyce, Peter Cossar, Kevin Hides, Ayeesha Ash, Thomas Hutchins and Lizzie Ballinger. Special mentions to the gently placed Blake La Burniy, the quietly competent Kristian Santic and Courtney Snell (Stage Manager), and Erin Murphy (Composer & Musician). Murphy’s cinematic underscore makes my heart ACHE.
Ballinger is feminine and fragile and wild, improbably beautiful as the aspiring actress, Nina. She is fierce and tragic, truth and hope and loveliness all rolled into one. Her easy movement, rich vocal work and bright eyes make her a joy to watch. Hutchins is our tall, dark and brooding doomed writer, Kostya; oh, how we feel for him! Again, the character is wholly realised by the actor, his nuanced voice and movement (and again, the eyes have it), convincing us utterly. This is Hutchins at his best, deeply invested and heartbreakingly believable. In this intimate space we feel a part of every move, every word, every breath, including his last. There is need of a true sound effect to finish though, and with it would come genuine shock and a real sense of loss, rather than the gradual realisation of the situation, which we understand from Irina’s confusion and the doctor’s measured reaction. Hides nails it; his doctor is the epitome of gentility, compassion and honour behind a sparkling family friend smile. I find myself watching him watching the others… It’s the strongest, sweetest performance of the night.
As Ilya the farmer Cossar delivers his best performance to date – such is the magic of perfect casting – and as his long-suffering wife, Boyce, although she is Ausssie chook lit mis-styled, is in fine form. It takes me a little while to warm to Ash as Masha, but when she finally settles she is lovely and detached and just as dissatisfied and downright miserable as she ought to be. And Filkins’ Boris? He’s the perfect love-punched poet, disarming and frustrating. Damn those well to do, attractive, creative types in suits, huh? A-hem.
Wild’s adaptation condenses four acts into two and if you don’t need to hit the highway to get home you can be in bed before 11pm…unheard of! This Chekhov rocks! I actually want to buy a copy of this adaptation from Wild since it’s the first time I’ve been truly swept up in the complexities of the story without questioning anybody’s objectives. Drama departments everywhere will want it! Venues everywhere will want it…hello, La Boîte?
If Wild is here to stay, be sure to see whatever it is she does next. Hers is a sophisticated yet simply stated theatrical world in which we feel warm and welcomed and challenged. If you want to experience a more intimate, honest and personal form of live theatre this year, this is The Seagull you should see.