The Seagull

Court One, Christchurch

15/05/2010 - 12/06/2010

Production Details

Seagull soars at The Court
Anton Chekhov is second only to Shakespeare,” says Elric Hooper,director of The Court Theatre’s production of THE SEAGULL, opening on May 15th.
“Before THE SEAGULL, Chekhov was known mostly as a successful short-story writer who dabbled in playwriting,” says Hooper. “THE SEAGULL was the first of what are commonly referred to as his ‘four great plays’; the plays that sustain his stature in modern theatre”.
The Court Theatre’s production is a lauded translation by Tom Stoppard, an acclaimed playwright in his own right. “Stoppard’s translation captures the wit and humanity of Chekhov brilliantly,” says Hooper, “the play has a champagne lightness but loses none of its pathos”.
In THE SEAGULL a successful actress spends a holiday on her brother’s country estate with her son, an aspiring writer, lover and her friends. Chekhov follows their lives as passions and dreams entwine in a world of beauty, cruelty and humanity.
In the real world, THE SEAGULL experienced a similar mixture of agony and ecstasy as the story it portrays. The play was poorly received at its 1896 St. Petersburg premiere, a blow which almost drove Chekhov from playwriting altogether. It wasn’t until a triumphant production at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 directed by Constantin Stanislavski that Chekhov’s reputation as a master dramatist was fully established.
“Chekhov acknowledges the absurdity of human behaviour, which is why he always called THE SEAGULL ‘a comedy’,” says Hooper. “His medical training taught him to be compassionate but detached: Chekhov loved humanity but also saw its frailties. Consequently his characters are richly-drawn, sympathetic and universally recognisable.”
Hooper hails his cast as “an ensemble of remarkable quality”. Veteran SHORTLAND STREET actor Owen Black returns to The Court after more than ten years, alongside a cast including Rima Te Wiata, Susan Curnow and Geoffrey Heath. “There are no weak links in the production – every character is brilliantly realised,” says Hooper.
It has been 114 years since THE SEAGULL was first staged in Russia, and 28 years since it was last staged at The Court. Hooper believes that “the layers and details in the script means that each generation can see itself uniquely reflected in this masterpiece.”
Venue: Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates: 15 May – 12 June 2010
Performances: 6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays). 2pm matinee Saturday 22 May
Tickets: Adults $45, Senior Citizens $38, Tertiary Students $26, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $36, Matinee $29 (22 May only)
Bookings: The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or
  • Owen Black (and fellow Shortland Street alumnus Will Hall) recently completed filming an independent feature film NETHERWOOD, in North Canterbury. Owen trained at Unitec with fellow cast member Claire Dougan; this is their first professional production together.
  • Cast members Elsie Edgerton-Till and Martin Howells have been performing in the comedy THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES at The Court Theatre in the evenings whilst rehearsing THE SEAGULL during the day.
  • Geoffrey Heath and Susan Curnow both appeared in the 1982 production of THE SEAGULL at The Court – Susan Curnow played the daughter of the character she now portrays.

Arkadina – Rima Te Wiata
Konstantin– Owen Black
Sorin – Martin Howells
Nina– Elsie Edgerton-Till
Shamraev - Phil Grieve
Polina - Susan Curnow
Masha – Claire Dougan
Trigorin – Jon Pheloung
Dorn – Geoffrey Heath
Medvedenko – Jonathan Martin
Yakov – Will Alexander
Maid – Emma Cusdin

Stage Manager Jo Bunce
Operator Darren McKane
Set Design Tony Geddes
Lighting Design Brendan Albrey
Sound Design Josh Major
Costume Design Emily Thomas Pauline Laws
Properties Nicki Evans
Props Construction Jason Collett
Workshop Manager Nigel Kerr
Set Construction Richard Daem, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg
Wardrobe Manager Emily Thomas
Costume Construction Bronwyn Corbet, Jenny Cunningham, Annie Graham, Beryl Hampson, Pauline Laws, Nicola Purdon, Emily Thomas, Deborah Ward
Wig Dressing Marie Huston 

Artistic vision crystallised

Review by Lindsay Clark 16th May 2010

Anticipation of one sort or another always builds strongly before the staging of a great classic. Those who envisage Chekhov’s The Seagull as a slow ‘intellectual’ experience should make it their business to see Stoppard’s lively translation fleshed out by a master of theatre with all his contemporary wits at work.

Under Elric Hooper’s direction the characters, racked though they be by frustrated dreams and unrequited love, are simply very funny. The tragic human truths of the play belong more to our perceptions than theirs.

Set in pre-revolution Russia, The Seagull reflects a period of momentous social and cultural change. Ideas about life, art and work were then, as now, moving targets and Chekhov’s romance covers the preoccupations of a Bohemian household.

Irina (to cut short the full magnificent Russian title) is a famous and aging actress, accompanied by her equally famous writer-lover. Their impact on the lives of Irina’s son, aspiring to write for a new idea of theatre, as well as on Nina from a wealthy landowner family, is cataclysmic. Frequent references to that other troubled son, Hamlet, reinforce our perception of the complexity of human relationships, as a veritable web of associations and longings is woven and more and more is revealed about the larger company.

The play is named though, not for the fledgling actress Nina, but for a free-flying beautiful bird, shot early in the play and laid before her. As a symbol of her own aspiration – indeed of all aspirations to freedom, to soar with dreams – both the bird and its later petrifaction become very clear. The famous writer, Trigorin, himself makes a note of the little corpse and ‘invents’ a back story about an innocent girl who could be taken up by a man, having not much else to do, who will ruin her. The painful irony is that when the action thus foreshadowed has indeed happened, he cannot remember the bird at all, even when its stuffed remains are displayed for him. 

Design solutions for such material are handled with flair. Tony Geddes is responsible for a bleached set which embraces lakeside, inner rooms and Russian landscape as well as suggesting the nebulous territory of the heart. Human presence even in group scenes is never cosy and the space allows Hooper to place characters to stunning effect, moving from electric dualogue to bewildered cluster as the world unravels. 

Lighting and sound from Brendan Albrey and Josh Major is both subtle and supportive of mood, while the palette of costume provided by Emily Thomas and Pauline Laws (thanks to a very large construction team) tracks character development impeccably.

As always, it is the characters, though, that we have to care about, to engage with. The household, headed by Irina’s older brother Sorin, colourfully realised by Martin Howells, overflows with their small lives.

To provide a benchmark of wisdom and neutrality as matters advance, Geofffrey Heath playing Dorn – the Good Doctor Chekhov himself one feels – projects a kindly, reconciled wisdom: “What sensitive creatures they are…all this love about… what can I do?” 

It is no surprise to see Rima Te Wiata round out her role as the melodramatic, self -centred Irina with such wicked charm. There is a touch of real tenderness beneath as she bandages son Konstantin’s wounded head and her final self deluding titter adds a twist of terrible irony as the play ends.

Konstantin himself, played by Owen Black, moves from initial hot headed impetuosity to desperate solitude with complete assurance and Jon Pheloung’s disenchanted writer Trigorin plays the detached observer /seducer as a clear foil.

As for Nina, who knows she is like the seagull but is determined to work on through her third-rate success as an actress, here is a heart breaking performance from Elsie Edgerton-Till. From glowing idealism, through the perilous infatuation for Trigorin, and so to her painful return and farewell when events have played out, the part is lived with complete sincerity and beauty.

Chekhov’s own advice about art making is often quoted and bears repetition: “Let us be just as complex and as simple as life itself,” he suggests, but we have only a couple of hours to share with the performance. The selection of which complexities to include and which simple human truths are the essential ones marks the difference between significant and trivial.

In the end, we have to acknowledge that dreams do not come cheaply. Every facet of this production, direction, visual presence, design and acting crystallises the vision.


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