Seagulls

15/08/17

The Leith Volcano, Constitution Street, Leith, Edinburgh

Wow. Seriously: wow. This is the most ambitious, exhilarating piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. It’s truly exciting: challenging, uncompromising and very, very good.

It’s The Seagull, kind of, although Chekhov probably wouldn’t recognise it, and goodness knows what Stanislavski the naturalist would make of it all. And that’s the point, I think: just as Treplev and Trigorin represent the experimental versus the establishment, so the two theatre greats, who were in their time avant-garde, now represent the traditional –  new performance styles are emerging all the time. And South Wales based ‘responsive arts group’ Volcano Theatre are surely at the forefront of this.

I love a bit of site-specific theatre, especially when the site is as spectacular and relevant as this: we’re in an abandoned church, the rear of which has been flooded with forty-five tons of water – certainly a unique way to portray Sorin’s lake. It’s breath-taking: all scaffolding and wooden boards; we’re on the makeshift stage that’s been built for Treplev’s play. As we enter, the actors are hanging above us on wires; as the show begins, they descend, one by one, and the riotous, irreverent production is soon in full swing. There are acrobatics and there’s nudity; there’s a dance routine and a suitcase fight. There’s expressive movement juxtaposed with bawdy belly-laughs; this is a wild, tumultuous production, twisting and tumbling in so many directions that it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. It doesn’t matter; I can’t pretend to understand it all, but I’m utterly entranced, and I can’t stop thinking about it for hours afterwards.

It’s not perfect. We find ourselves sitting at the back for the second half of the play, and can’t see over the heads of the people in front of us. By this point, the actors are in the lake, further away than they were before, so the acoustics aren’t so good and we can’t hear everything. But when a play is this electrifying, such details seem like mere quibbles. This is an absolute must-see.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

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