Sheridan Morley reviews The Seagull (Barbican), The Spectator, 13 May 2000
Into the Barbican from Stratford, rather more rapidly than usual, comes the Adrian Noble revival of The Seagull. This is a careful, loving production of Chekhov, and I suspect it may well have looked better on the intimate Swan stage than in the vast open spaces of the main Barbican stage.
For this is a quietly haunting Seagull, dominated by the Arkadina of Penelope Wilton, an actress on the verge of the kind of later-life super-stardom achieved by Judi Dench; just one good role in a big-budget costume picture should clinch it. Meanwhile her selfish actress, constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown and unable to hear her own family unless they happen to be applauding her, is what holds Adrian Noble's unassuming, scholarly show together.
True, there are some disappointments: Nigel Terry seems not yet to have found the truth of Trigorin, the starry but still insecure novelist, while as the doomed young lovers John Light and Justine Waddell (from the BBC's Wives and Daughters) are less than charismatic. It is left to a couple of the RSC veterans (Richard Pasco and Richard Johnson as the magistrate and the doctor) to remind us time and again not only of Chekhov's chilly truths but also of how they too, like their characters, are a vanishing breed.
The director Peter Gill's new adaptation is characteristic of the Gill who once brought D.H. Lawrence to the stage: bleak, unforgiving, dark, wiry. In the end, it is not only Masha who is in mourning for her life here; the country houseparty is entirely peopled by characters who have either lost the will to live or at the very least forgotten where and when they last had, it.
What might be good now would be to try Elaine Paige as Arkadina and Penelope Wilton as Mrs Anna.
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