The Three Seagulls, Bristol Old Vic

THE title of this show reflects the way it was devised by the graduating cohort of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s BA in Professional Acting, from three different adaptations by Christopher Hampton, Anya Reiss, and Aaron Posner of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Guided by the imaginative hand of director Sally Cookson, they set out to show that although the themes within Chekhov’s play, the desire for love, success, artistic genius, through which none of the characters find happiness and fulfilment, are still relevant in today’s society, the meanings change when viewed by the present generation.

From the word go, with an ensemble number sung through hand-held mics, to the final individual words from the cast telling us where they hope their theatrical future will take them, this was the present generation giving us their interpretation of a story created by Chekhov in 1896 Czarist Russia.

They were aided and abetted in this desire not to be trapped in any form of traditional theatre by costume and set designers Maria Terry and Cat Fuller. There was a nodding acceptance to the characters in the mixture of costumes which looked as if they had been rummaged from old wardrobes or charity shops. The set, built from scaffolding and planks, required, and fortunately found, a group of fit athletic actors to take full advantage of its possibilities.

Bursting at the seams with enthusiasm and total commitment, the cast, sitting at the back of the set when not involved in the action, and guided by Cookson’s strong hand, ensured that throughout the hour and three-quarters, played without an interval, the action never slowed.

The development of the characters was, for the best of reasons, not quite so satisfactory. With so little opportunity for the graduating actors to display their talents it was decided to rotate most of the roles. The result was some excellent duets, and solo moments, but no chance to see individuals building a character to fruition.

Trying to rehearse the 14-strong cast through the pandemic for this oh-so-important production for the graduating actors must have been a nightmare. Although you can argue that the storylines were not always clearly drawn and some of the ensemble work, while of high quality, looked to have been grafted on rather than evolved from the plot, the finished article was a fine showpiece admirably displaying the talents of those on and back-stage.

One thing is certain, this production did not lose sight of the original work. Speaking to some young theatre-goers after the show, none of whom had ever seen Chekhov’s The Seagull on stage, they almost universally voiced the opinion that they would now love to see a traditional production of that play.



Three Seagulls is on at the Old Vic until Saturday 10th July.

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