TUMULTUOUS passions and artistic egos collide in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio.
The February 26 to March 7 run completes director Helen Wilson’s ten-year project to stage all four of the Russian playwright’s major works in York, after Three Sisters in 2010, The Cherry Orchard in 2015 and Uncle Vanya in 2018.
Chekhov’s 1895 tragicomedy follows famous Russian actress Arkadina (played by Stephanie Hesp) as she brings her novelist lover Trigorin (Ben Sawyer) to spend the summer at her brother’s lakeside estate.
Arkadina’s son Konstantin (Benedict Turvill) is preparing for the premiere of his bold new play starring his girlfriend Nina (Livy Potter). For the assembled audience of family and friends, the play’s first and only performance sets off a series of events that will alter the course of all their lives, forever.
Wilson’s multi-generational cast also features Maurice Crichton as Dr Dorn; Glyn Morrow, Sorin; Paul Joe Osbourne, Shamrayev; Elizabeth Elsworth, Polina; Lucy May Orange, Masha, and Sami Sok, Medvedenko.
Helen says: “Chekhov always wrote for an ensemble cast with wonderful parts for women. The Seagull is no exception. Actors love Chekhov and it’s my mission to bring the public round to him too.
“He is so often misunderstood. The Seagull is a comedy, as Chekhov describes it, and laughter and tears often spill over into each other.”
Taking principal roles for Helen for the first time will be Benedict Turvill, 22, last seen in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre in December, and Livy Potter, 26, whose last role was “being blokey” in York Shakespeare Project’s Antony And Cleopatra at Theatre @41 Monkgate last autumn.
“Playing Konstantin and his girlfriend Nina, they have such emotional journeys to go on,” says Helen. “They must go from being so in love in Act One to being in abject despair in Act Four. For young actors, The Seagull has everything in it for them.”
Livy says: “The ‘realness’ of the language can sometimes take your breath away. You read it for the first time and then read it again later, after you’ve experienced something, and the humanness of those words is so affecting.”
Benedict says: “When I’ve read Chekhov in the past, I’ve always thought it was a rather rigid attempt at being natural, but once it comes off the page, as you rehearse it, it really works.”
“When you get to that point, you can really open your performance to it,” says Livy, who will be performing at the theatre where she works as the marketing and press assistant.
“I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I’ve seen a lot of plays in that Studio space and I know what works and what doesn’t and that makes it an exciting prospect to be on that stage. It’s an awareness of how to use that space that is the key.”
Adapting to that space, Helen says: “I’ve learnt from the past productions not to have so much on stage, like having a piano and chaise longue previously. There’ll be a soundscape and lighting, but what really matters is that the play will be absorbing to watch in such an intimate space.”
Amid such intimacy, Chekhov’s comedy will blossom. “There’s such humour in the pretentious characters,” says Benedict. “Playing a funny character who’s not consciously funny, the audience will laugh at you, not with you.”
Roll on Wednesday, when The Seagull takes flight until March 7. Tickets for the 7.45pm evening performances and 2pm matinee on February 29 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Did you know?
YORK artist Emma Whitelock has provided the promotional artwork for the Settlement Players’ production of The Seagull.
Describing her painting Epiphany, Emma says: “Its lone figure on the shore echoes perfectly Chekhov’s mood of longing in The Seagull. The piece was inspired by a misty winter sunrise on the Yorkshire coast and aims to capture a poignant moment; the outer world reflecting the inner.”
Emma’s artwork explores land, sea and solitude, her inspiration coming from the dramatic Yorkshire moors and coast, together with the exceptional light and vibrancy of Cornish summers.
Using acrylic with mixed media, she builds layers that evolve intuitively to create textured, semi-abstract works, marked by big skies, atmospheric colours and an expressive style. “I aim to transport the viewer to wild places, resonant with memories or possibilities,” she says.
The next chance to see Emma’s paintings will be at York Open Studios 2020 at Venue 43, 11 Trentholme Drive, The Mount, York, on April 18, 19, 25 and 26 from 10am to 5pm, preceded by a preview evening on April 17.