“A young girl lives all her life on the shore of a lake. She loves the lake, like a seagull, and she’s happy and free, like a seagull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom. Like this seagull.”
Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like A Phoenix”. Flappy Bird. Birdman. Morning birdsong. An explosion of feathers. The avian symbolism hit hard in Amitai Landau-Pope’s new play (the wings of the) Seagull, which is on at the Burton Taylor Studio this week. Walking in, the stage was bare but for a couple of suitcases, each full to the brim with the props that the wonderfully versatile Pelin Morgan would be using throughout; it was an elegant choice to denote the literal packing and unpacking of lived experience and the emotions embedded within. Featuring a play-within-a-play-within-a-play, elements of the absurd (“Has anyone seen a Malaysian plane?”), and an overwhelming story of self-assertion amidst trauma, Seagull is certainly not for the faint-hearted. A long list of trigger warnings were read out over loudspeaker at the very beginning, warning the audience for what was to come, and I left the theatre feeling more than a little shaken by what I had just seen.
I attended this show with a fellow Chekhov fan, who was impressed by the playfully subversive fidelity to the source text – the connections made between tangible objects such as skulls and Chekhov’s gun, the idolisation of authority figures and sacrifices made in pursuit of a dream, and the descriptions of Konstantin as a “soft boy” and his mother as “bitchy and judgy”, which generated small chuckles from the audience. Similar to Chekhov, Landau-Pope’s writing was meticulously descriptive, establishing the material world around the character and using tangible objects to convey great depth and viscerality in storytelling (two words: ice cream). At one point, the monologue was extremely uncomfortable to watch, but the graphic nature of the story was softened by the deliberate decision for Morgan to tell it from a distance, detached, as if her character were disassociating at the very point their world fell apart. This was not only effective and compelling, but also deeply symbolic.
As for Morgan’s performance, I could speak volumes. Her pacing, her stage presence, the cadence of her voice, and the display of vulnerability and youth in the time jumps between past and present, were nothing short of masterful. She paid incredible attention to detail regarding the writing, and conveyed it in a variety of ways; comedic as her feet zig-zagged across the floor while describing her crush “thinking deep thoughts”, vulnerable as her eyes shyly looked up over brightly coloured flower petals at the boy she loved, and devastating as she held her shaking hands up over her mouth, describing the “dried up saltwater clustered across [her] face”. Her most powerful and significant line is a direct reference to Nina’s conversation with Konstantin in Chekhov’s Seagull – “I want to go like a bird that has been shot out of the sky. No, I’m not a bird. I’m a seagull.” This subverted the tenor of the original piece in a way that made it incredibly relevant for the modern day, in light of the #MeToo movement.
Following the great success of Little Eyolf and I Punched A Nazi (and I liked it), Amitai Landau-Pope has produced yet another masterpiece in which his unique voice, immediacy of emotion, and keen eye for thought-provoking concepts have never been more powerfully presented. This is a play that will shake you to the core.