In 2011 and 2013, Emilia Clarke (TV's 'Game of Thrones', 'Me Before You') suffered two aneurysms, which in her words rendered large amounts of her brain "no longer usable" to the point that it is remarkable she is able to speak today. Her miraculous recovery and sheer talent is evident in her first West End outing as Nina in Jamie Lloyd's ('NT Live: Cyrano de Bergerac') adaption of Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull'. With the help of National Theatre Live, 'The Seagull' as a stage production now graces the big screen.
Opening with a decidedly minimal and stripped back set, the usually more exuberantly presented play 'The Seagull' leans towards a more experimental nature in this adaption. Lloyd's direction is so striking that it becomes its own beast, outshining the talented cast at times by forcing them into a dull shadow consigned to muttering and moaning Chekhov's dialogue in one-note tones.
The set by Soutra Gilmour is a wooden cork box, packing the actors into a small space solely filled with green plastic chairs that look like the ones you sit on during a high school assembly. Likewise, the cast wear dull and muted colour tones, shifting around the chairs barefoot with a military like precision. Harsh floodlights beat down on the actors unapologetically as they stare into the audience delivering monologues which pull your gaze and mind along.
This unique direction, combined with the over two-hour runtime makes for an interesting yet befuddling production that overstays its welcome at moments. The standout of 'The Seagull' is the talented cast across Emilia Clarke's Nina, with Daniel Monks as the tortured (and slightly failed) playwright Konstantin and Indira Varma as his successful actress mother Arkadina leading the fray. Varma, especially, is a standout with her cunning and layered performance that leaves you disgusted yet also intrigued. Although the entire 10-people strong cast are incredibly talented, at points Llyod's direction seems to stifle what could have been, where I started to wish for more.
Lloyd's direction is so striking that it becomes its own beast, outshining the talented cast at times by forcing them into a dull shadow consigned to muttering and moaning Chekhov's dialogue in one-note tones.
But perhaps that was what Llyod was trying to bring across, with the characters each wishing for more - more romance, more fame, more success, more love – only to lead to their downfalls. As the second act opens with the wooden box broken apart like Clarke's slowly broken Nina, I couldn't help but to like this production for its boldly unapologetic commitment to its aesthetic.
'The Seagull' is a piece of art that I am still thinking about days after, mulling over whether I enjoyed it or not. It is definitely not an easy watch, but an engaging one - a work that throws you into the deep end and forces you to sit up and think. I think National Theatre Live is doing a wonderful job at bringing British theatre to the big screen worldwide, and it's exciting to see what creative projects this cast and crew embark on next.