(photo by David Cooper)
I have created my own adaptation of the play in an effort to provide a theatrical language that is fresh and modern
by Peter Hinton
Peter Hinton is an award winning playwright and director. From 2005-2012, he was Artistic Director of English Theatre at Canada's National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Peter was an associate artist at The Stratford Festival for seven seasons, directing The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Universe, The Odyssey, Fanny Kemble, The Duchess of Malfi, Into the Woods, and all three parts of his own verse trilogy entitled,The Swanne. Recently Peter directed the acclaimed productions of Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, both for the Shaw Festival. For the Segal Centre, he directed A Night in November by Marie Jones, Buried Child by Sam Shepard, and his own adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. Peter was the 2012 English recipient of the National Theatre School of Canada’s Gascon/Thomas Award for significant achievement in Canadian Theatre, and in 2009, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.For the last few years, Paul Flicker and I have talked about a production for the Segal Centre that could embody the considerable strengths of its vision and mandate. We wanted to collaborate on a production that would be unique and relevant – combining the very best of innovation and tradition, the classical and the modern – and somehow be both thought-provoking and seriously entertaining. We both love plays that tackle the complexity of the human condition, and at the same time are very funny. We thought about a production that would provide an opportunity for wonderful design, strong writing and great parts for actors.
Chekhov himself was a physician, short story writer and a dramatist. He is famously quoted for saying that, “Medicine is my lawful wife, but literature is my Mistress.”
Chekhov’s first major full length play, The Seagull was written in 1895 and presented at the Alexandra Theatre in St. Petersburg on October 17, 1896. It is perhaps his most personal play in its treatment of the artist and his place in modern society. Years of theatre-going, reviewing, dealing with managers and performers were distilled into a dramatic metaphor for the artistic experience, for the contrasts between commercialism and idealism, ability and aspiration, purposeless talent and diligent mediocrity. Among the central characters are a would-be playwright, a successful author; an acclaimed but second-rate theatre star, and an aspiring younger actress. Gathered at the country estate of a newly retired government official, and its local rural inhabitants – the play has multiple heroes and multiple conflicts. The Seagull poses questions about whether modern forms of art are actual and true expressions of our time and it questions the idealism of social change.
Everyone in the play is a seagull. Each of the characters regards the country estate and rural lake community of the play as an enclosure for deep seated frustration and unfulfilled dreams. None of the characters feel “at home”. It is a location meant for retreat, for replenishment, peace and retirement. In this contrast of desire and reality, much of the play's comedy and heartache is revealed. The celebrated actress would rather be in a hotel room learning lines, the retired government official would rather be back at work in the city, the young aspiring actress is always running in and out, time stolen away from an oppressive life elsewhere, the school teacher is there only out of sufferance, the manager of the estate, an ex-military man has no skills or interests in country life, his wife who no longer loves him, and the local doctor feels helpless in providing a better life for himself or anyone. Only the successful writer has any real affinity with the country, but largely due to the fact it allows him to be idle and conduct a brief affair with a young girl.
Regrettably, over the years, Chekhov in Canada has become associated with heavy handed meditations on ennui; mournful characters wistfully yearning for faraway places on romantic old estates in Russia, weighed down in sentimentality and nostalgia. While nothing could be further from the essence of Chekhovian dramaturgy – we want with this production to dispel these notions of a depressed world – and instead offer the extremes of emotion and tone; a production that is as sharp and comic as it is tragic – and above all, fresh and relevant for audiences in Montreal today.
See also: the promo video for the production