THE ERA and the location may have changed but for those trapped in Chekhov’s suffocatingly claustrophobic world the problems remain steadfastly the same.
A country retreat away from the rigours and attractions of Victorian London plays host to Chekhov’s trademark band of wistful and perennially disappointed dreamers caught without the means or determination to see those dreams come to fruition.
Endless talk of the importance of art and the need to keep searching for life’s ultimate meaning is interspersed with equally endless talk of the hopelessness of love in director James Suckling’s own re-scripting of the work.
It’s an adaptation which eschews the opportunity to enliven the action while somehow managing to keep things moving so the production, despite its constant portrayal of stifling boredom and mind-numbing introspection, never actually drags.
Richard Moore’s design is a fine blend of outdoor space and interior crampedness. The lowering presence of the abandoned garden stage throughout the final scenes is hugely effective. Just as important though is the non-stop soundscape running from evening birdlife to impending tempest which both anchors the action and steers us clear of those empty, sapping silences which can so easily spoil Chekhov productions.
There are some fine performances from the Loft cast. Christopher Bird and Nona Davies as the young idealists yearning for the perfect life they feel writing and acting will bring them are well-matched and the final scene recognising the regrets and mistakes they inevitably have is beautifully pitched.
Dawn Suckling portrays the matriarch Irene as a woman more at home playing the lead on stage than she is in her private life. John Fenner is excellent as her brother, constantly grounded and in a position to add the odd trenchant comment on the assembled, self-regarding party.
A fine performance comes too from Vicky Holding as the doomed, lovelorn Martha whose love and hopes all disappear as quickly as the brandy in her very active glass. Martha also provides two genuine highlights in front curtain songs added in to smooth breaks between acts – a very welcome addition indeed.
Chekhov always calls for good ensemble playing and the cast work well together and will only improve as the play’s run continues.
This is a challenging play – these monumental examinations of human isolation and disappointment always are – but in this spirited and well-observed production the Loft goes a long way to making a case for why we continue to explore and enjoy them.
The Seagull runs at The Loft Theatre on Victoria Colonnade until Saturday October 1.
Visit www.lofttheatrecompany.com for tickets and full performance details.