Posts Tagged ‘Chekhov


The Seagull




The Seagull

QTC in association with Brisbane Festival 

The Greenhouse Bille Brown Studio

September 5 – 26 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Sorin: You cannot be without theatre.


Konstantin: Yes, but it needs a new approach.



There is nothing new in art except talent.




This is a story about how we tell stories… It’s also about our private stories; the ones we tell ourselves to give our lives meaning, the ones we cast ourselves inside of in our search of love and hope.


What endures, what echoes, on this stage is the essence of Chekhov’s The Seagull…


Daniel Evans, Writer & Director




This is The Seagull but not as we know it. Writer and Director, Daniel Evans, has respectfully wrung its neck and brought it back to life in the most spectacularly comical, typically Australian way. It would be in poor taste to say so, of course, but if you can imagine the Crocodile Hunter revived by a Pulp Fictionalised adrenaline shot, you’ll get a feeling for this production. Crikey! (I’m genuinely surprised that there’s not a croc or a Hills Hoist or a jar of Vegemite stashed somewhere in the set but like our films, I guess we’re trying to resist including them). Still, I think Chekhov would approve, even if his diehard fans and the traditionalists may not.


Handing anything from the classic canon to Dan Evans is probably considered a calculated risk by now, and it’s the sort of risk-taking we should expect to see more of.


The people in Chekhov’s plays are beyond damaged, but we know them – we are them – and from time to time we need a jolt just to remember what we’re doing here, especially those of us who insist on making art. Evans’ astute adaptation brings Chekhov’s characters, with all their misery and wry humour, into the new millennium for a brand new quick-to-comment audience. It’s an adaptation that would come across very well in bite-sized (140 character) pieces.


If you saw Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, you’ll know when you go to see The Seagull to be ready for anything. Some will find the modern day props and references too much, and others will chortle with the rest of the audience in genuine appreciation of the update. Some might wonder why they ever had to study the original text…


Interestingly, Stage Manager, Dan Sinclair provides a constant presence, waiting with props, a piano (yes, he plays it), a blackboard wall and white chalk, and a MacBook side stage. I love his presence because Chekhov can’t help but have his characters all languishing somewhere – in this workshop setting, designed with Keiran Swan and lit by Ben Hughes with sound designed by Guy Webster, they’re all plainly visible – it’s Sinclair (in his stage debut!) who is interesting to watch when the pace slows a little in between gags in the first three acts. It should be said that the pace of the final act is better measured, not as forced, with well-placed silences giving us time to pause and dread the unhappy ending.


Evans’ gift is his defiant comedy, and an uncanny ability to layer and meld the elements, incorporating all the contemporary references and whacky ideas that come from a level of thought that most of us don’t engage in very often. Or ever.


Remember Luc Besson’s film, Lucy? 100% brain engagement! It’s Evans at his best, whether you like it or not, feeding one-liners to everybody, alive or dead. That’s right. Anton, the stuffed seagull, has a voice and he has a lot to say, just in case you were missing all things meta.


As the ingénue Nina, Emily Burton finds a sweet kind of insecure crazy. Her sad, gentle madness could be a little closer to heartbreak though, and perhaps by the end of the season she’ll crack through the bewilderment we’ve come to know so well in order to offer a little less of the wide-eyed approach to…everything. Admittedly, she’s a beautifully wide-eyed, naïve Nina but there must be something more for this performer in a role one day to take her a little farther away from type.


Nicholas Gell, in his QTC debut, holds his own as Konstantin, bringing to the role an abundance of obsessive (self) destructive traits and artistic integrity/intensity, which only bemuses his mother, Irina, the “serious actress” of Australian TVC, soapie and “real theatre” fame.


Christen O’Leary must be the most physically intense and altogether together actor in Queensland right now (not to mention one of the busiest), every performance a masterclass in voice and movement, and character and connecting with others. Her Irina is unapologetically cruel and wholly fragile behind an impenetrable façade, collapsing just outside of the pages of the story, right on the edge of the household, as we do. Her momentary breakdown is uncomfortable, however; in this as in other heightened moments, the question of focus comes into play. (By contrast, another up-close split scene of beautifully shared dialogue between Nina and Tregorin, and Irina and Medvedenko makes this device work more effectively).


We’ve seen a lot of Jason Klarwein recently and there’s more to come before the year is out, when he joins Tama Matheson in The Odd Couple. As the passionate, destructive writer, Irina’s husband, Trigorin, he’s ideal. And as befits the brooding character of the original text, he stays silent and singular early on, commanding the stage even as Irina’s shadow, and coming to vivid, wicked life when Nina’s youth and vulnerability catches him, hook, line and sinker. This relationship, always challenging to pull off, suffers just a little on opening night from well-staged fiery passion, rather than truly untidy, insistent and insatiable lust. It will no doubt be safe enough and still racy enough to satisfy slightly younger audiences, but when we’re wholly aware of the images in advertising and on our screens, as long as we’re being current and pushing boundaries, let’s push our performers another inch…closer.


Barb Lowing (a strong, capable, lusty Ilya, completely obsessed with Wicked; her silent, smiling desperation enough to break our hearts), Helen Cassidy (Polina), Hugh Parker (Dorn), Lucas Stibbard (Medvedenko), Amy Ingram (Masha) and Brian Lucas (Sorin) round out the ensemble, each accomplished actor shining, each in a role that fits like a favourite pair of shoes.


But it’s Brian Lucas you’ll remember long after this season closes. As the terminally ill Sorin, he finds both the mad romp and the gentler, quieter way through life, as well as all the subtleties of the precious relationships and simple joys around him. If there’s a truly new and original (and so very intuitive) take on a Chekhovian character it’s in this honest actor’s performance, a moving reading of a flawed, loved and loving man. Brian Lucas brings to this role the kind of courage and commitment we’re accustomed to seeing on another state theatre company’s stage each time they reinvent a Chekhov, and it’s such a pleasure to witness the impact on artists and the public, of a deeply considered performance here.


Chekhov is the master of familiar, frustrating banality and tragedy and Evans a master of the digitally remastered re-release.


This version of The Seagull, stripped back and presented in “The Actors Studio” might not appeal to everyone, but everyone should consider it; Evans’ approach is still new and not yet so tired that we need to be overly critical of it. In fact, if we can be supportive of it we’ll help him – and other brilliant writers and directors – to find their voice and find their feet in a landscape that is typically unforgiving of the reconfigured, reinvented and re-imagined classics, which (whether we want them or not) everyone, everyone, everyone needs.


It’s curious that we can’t possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem paltry and ridiculous…






The Seagull – now look here


The Seagull

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.



The Good Doctor opens next week too

WOW! There is SO MUCH theatre on in Brisbane right now!

Villanova Players’ production of The Good Doctor opens on Friday August 30th too!

Neil Simon, Broadway’s master of comedy, weaves the witty and whimsical stories of Anton Chekov into exquisitely timed, hilarious theatre.

The stories involve a wide variety of characters – a governess, a lady of the night; a blustering general; a wild woman with a nervous disorder; a roué flirting with a new bride; a man who earns money by “drowning”; and an extremely dedicated actress. 

They are filled with dry humour, surprise endings, and clever common people confronting their superiors.



The Theatre, Seven Hills TAFE, Clearview Terrace, Morningside (Air Conditioned. Free on-site parking. $2 Supper). 


Evenings at 8pm

Fri 30, Sat 31 Aug

Thu 5, Fri 6, Sat 7 Sept

Thu 12, Fri 13, Sat 14 Sept


Matinees at 2pm

Sun 1 Sept

Sat 7, Sun 8 Sept

Sat 14 Sept


Bookings online or call 3899 9962


Cost: Adults $20, Concession $15, Students and Children $10, Groups (10+) $13ea.





Cherry Orchard

HeartBeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble offers the complete theatrical experience. As my friend and I entered the venue – an old, vaguely familiar church hall in the Valley (I remember rehearsing something there. Into the Woods. It was chilly back then too) – the Artistic Director of the company, Michael Beh, greeted us. He was, in true ensemble style, taking his turn at the door and he made us feel most welcome.

Warm, subdued lighting, comfortable lounges, a baby grand piano, live music from members of the cast (clad in exquisite vintage designs; a hint of what was to come) as well as the special attention we received from the FOH staff, who brought champagne and canapés to us on the lounge, all combined to set the old world, sophisticated house party scene and indeed, the Chekhovian mood…whatever that may be. Whatever it has been before, HeartBeast have created something quite special so that from the moment you set foot in the venue, the theatrical event begins.

Cherry Orchard was the last of Chekhov’s plays. It is a well-known fact that he wrote it as a comedy, however; Stanislavski, much to Chekhov’s chagrin, for its premiere at Moscow Arts Theatre, directed it as a tragedy. It seems to me that since then, this play has suffered from something akin to Youngest Child Syndrome, struggling, in the great scheme of things, to work out who (or what) it really is (my brother, the youngest child, will wonder at that). Part comedy, part tragedy then, Cherry Orchard centres around an aristocratic family who makes no move to save their beloved estate and famed cherry orchard as it goes to auction to pay the mortgage (and is subsequently bought by the son of a former servant, whose intent it is to demolish the orchard). It deals with the surface level issues of money and class structure, sure, but Chekhov, as he was wont to do, used the basic, everyday conversations, routines and struggles of a cross-section of Russian people to explore much more deeply, the human condition and the apparent futility of desire, ambition and hard work.

This production of Cherry Orchard is a visual feast. Absolutely superb vintage costumes, sourced from London and Paris (Jan Mandrusiak & Michael Beh), give this timeless story a distinct 1950’s feel, which might sound ridiculous but it is a bold call that works superbly. I was pleased to note, as I know some of you will be, that the gorgeous costumes used in this production, along with the vintage jewellery and various set pieces are all up for sale at the conclusion of the season. Check out

An interesting, slightly decaying, open timber set (Genevieve Ganner & Peter Crees) provides us with just the bare bones of the estate, exposing its past, present and future, with the simple addition of a few select furniture pieces made cleverly from cherry boxes. The cast carried out the few scene changes efficiently. The rich, cherry red design concept was almost overwhelming (my friend commented that he would have preferred to see just a few touches of red, here and there). But I loved it. I loved that it was excessive and, to me, a reflection of the lavishness of life in the Russian upper echelons. Sumptuous red vintage dresses, hats, throws, shoes, bags…clearly, no expense has been spared on wardrobe and no detail, down to the seamed stockings, has been left unattended. Adding to the effect is the deeply set red backdrop, of immense velvet curtains and the string of red party lights in their obvious symbolic state. The lighting design (Jason Harding & Rory Fitzpatrick) serves the purpose but the operators, in full view of the audience, could do with a little more self-discipline during the course of the show!

There is excellent focus on stage and the cast is able to sustain a solid fourth wall. There are a few dynamic connections established and I would like to see time devoted to the further development of interesting relationships and also, closer attention given to diction.

Overall, it is a very young ensemble and they have done a lovely job of delivering a challenging classical text. I hope that by the end of the run, they can trust themselves and each other enough to let go of their training and technique (but not their diction) just a little, just to see what it feels like. Then they’ll be hooked on that feeling and know that it is there to be found again and again. What this beautiful looking production needs is its cast to come truly alive within its mass of glorious colour.

We seem to have so much reverence for Chekhov and yet we need to approach the work as we do any text, without trepidation and with a sense of responsibility, beyond all else, to tell the story. Chekhov’s story, of a passively self-destructive family, is so rich that if history, emotion and motive fail to inform every moment, all we get is a collection of picturesque vignettes without impulse, desire or passion. There were many moments that hit the mark and there is potential for many more to do the same.

HeartBeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble is an exciting young company that has at its disposal, all the elements, including an inspired, courageous and caring Artistic Director to guide them through countless more opportunities to develop their work and their audiences. It is, once again, wonderful to see that another vibrant, passionate new company can emerge in Brisbane and immediately be taken seriously.

The Cast:

Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya: Selina Kadell

Leonid Andreyevitch Gaev: Ben van Trier

Anya: Jordan Kadell

Varya: Emily Pollard

Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin: Peter Crees

Simeon Panteleyevitch Epikhodov & Boris Borisovitch Simeonov Pishin: David Bentley

Charlotta Ivanova: Adrienne Costello

Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov: Thomas Hutchins

Dunyasha: Samantha Cable

Fiers: Ian Bielenberg

Yasha: Kristin Santic

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