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  • Kate Gaul

The Seagull online 2021

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

4 sneaky vodkas for this timeless classic!

Druid Theatre present The Seagull (after Chekhov) by Thomas Kilroy.

The great Irish theatre company, Druid, include in their annual program an outdoor production in Galway which given current restrictions makes a lot of sense. This year they present the Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy’s 1981 adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1898 play in the haunting Coole Park. In Coole Park – immortalised in the poetry of WB Yeats - sits the ruins of a grand house. This was home to Lady Gregory who in 1899, with fellow dramatists Edward Martyn and WB Yeats (co-founders of the Abbey Theatre), first dreamed of establishing the Irish Literary Theatre just before Konstantin Stanislavsky had his first great success with his newly formed Moscow Art Theatre, directing The Seagull. Kilroy relocates the action to an “estate in the west of Ireland in the latter part of the 19th century”. Coole Park was once just such an estate.

On screen its not possible to experience the full atmospheric resonances that an outdoor location lends a production but where better to convey the journey from riches to ruination of the Anglo-Irish landed class than on the site where the ghostly absence of a former Big House pervades?

From my Australian perspective I couldn’t grasp all the political nuances, but director Garry Hynes emphasises the play’s examination of doomed and hopeless love. These are great roles and the great actors at work in this heartbreaking production give terrific performances united by the no-nonsense directorial eye. Story is at once crystal clear and extremely moving as its traces the despairing suicide of Constantine (Konstantin). He is destroyed by losing his sweetheart Lily (Nina) and the rejection of his emotionally brutal mother Isobel (Arkadina). She frantically clings to her fading sexual appeal and her equally fading theatrical career.

Isobel’s lover Aston (Trigorin), the lowbrow writer, succumbs to the easy seduction of the innocent and dazzled Lily, is at least briefly brought to a realisation of love before finding its demands too taxing. Further down the social scale, Mary (Masha) daughter of the family land agent, a bumbling hanger-on cousin, also yearns for Constantine before settling for the local schoolteacher, who she despises. Her mother Paulina yearns for the local doctor, a suspected philanderer.

The costuming was strange to my eye initially – being neither Chekhovian or contemporary - until I made the connection to Irish history that both the play and production makes. The first two acts of the play take place on a simple wooden platform amongst the trees of the park. The lake, an installation of glass panels behind the players, glows as the evening light fades. After interval the action of the play moves inside and wooden walls are brought in to create an ever more gloomy interior as the drama darkens. In long-shot the machinations of these characters – surrounded as they are by the every darkening exterior of majestic trees – seem fragile, transient and eternal.

The recording for digital presentation is straightforward, mostly front-on but with enough close-ups and change of angle to satisfy viewers. The sound recording is excellent. All accompanied by an excellent program as a download for viewers. I think Chekhov would approve of theatre’s evolution wrought by the great change confronting us.

“What has theatre to do with reality?” The question, not Chekhov but Kilroy - and asked by actor Isobel (Arkardina) - goes to the heart of the Chekhov/Kilroy play and this production, in which theatre/fiction and reality are inextricably interdependent.

For those keen to see a snapshot of how the outdoor venue was designed I recommend this clip -

The Seagull is at Coole Park, County Galway, until 21 August, and online on demand as part of GIAF (Galway international arts festival) 5-12 September 2021

Kate Gaul


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