Chaotic and ambitious assault on Chekhov's tragi-comedy
In Seagulls, Volcano Theatre have perhaps made theatre for an audience that doesn't like theatre. Recasting a derelict church as a suggestive set for a mash-up of physical theatre, spectacle and Chekhov's classic script, they abandon the pieties of scripted theatricality for an anarchic and passionate attack on tame theatricality.
At their best – in the tableau that evokes Seagull's last act, or the sudden reveal of a second set submerged in a tank of water – Volcano offer a vivid visual imagination, using the location as a brooding presence that enhances the drama of a family in crisis, and the exploitation of an innocent young woman. At their worst, they stamp on Chekhov's nuanced writing, with the performers reduced to shouting in an attempt to fill the space and reducing the tumultuous passions of the characters to banal displays of lust.
The attempt to subvert the politeness and restraint of Chekhov is both bracing and tedious: a dance routine to The Clash is simplistic, but a Frank Sinatra number adds power to a more allusive and expressionist choreography. The structure uses the script to pace the decline of the family, but the sense of time passing – so crucial in the source material – is lost. And Chekhov's wry humour is removed for broader laughs or manic intensity.
The overall impact is messy, with meaning frequently disappearing as the actors struggle against the venue's acoustics. However, the raw energy, and imaginative visual style, lends Seagulls a distinctive dynamism. While the battle to overthrow conventional notions of dramaturgy collapses into incoherence, Volcano's intentions are clear and Seagulls is an intriguing first draft of a rough and aggressive approach to a classic text.
Leith Volcano, run ended