Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Seagull at YTR - Is Pierce Reid the new Ben Whishaw?

My ruminations on Chekhov's The Seagull, after a great production at York Theatre Royal, are manifold. Some clear, strong performances from a number of the cast, like Kevin McGowan (Dorn), Julie Watson (Arkadina) and Paul Shelley (Sorin), and in particular from the Royal Scottish Academy of Drama and Music students Pierce Reid (as Konstantin, or Kostya) and Olivia Knowles once she gets into the swing of it (playing Masha).

I was not so convinced by Jessica Bilé as Nina, despite her fresh vitality, but perhaps that's because the character herself annoys me. Her sycophantic, dream-clouded vision of celebrity, in the form of her interest (and even infatuation?) with Trigorin, played with silver-fox, obscure sex appeal by Marcello Walton, struck me as selfish, infantile, and just plain blind. She pays for it with a harsh fate though, so perhaps the outcome of the play is meant to balance out her faults with the suffering she eventually bears.

For those who are not familiar with The Seagull's finale, I won't spoil it, as I'd hate to lessen for others the impact that I felt so strongly; needless to say, however, it truly brought home to me how well Chekhov has crafted the final act, and indeed, the play as a whole. I never quite believed that Kostya had the strength of resolve to carry out his plan, but I was proved wrong, which seemed fitting in the context of the penultimate, emotive scene.

On contemplation of the play itself, I find myself unable to ignore the resonances with Hamlet, and of course, they are spelled out to a certain degree. As one of the directors said in the post-show talk with the cast however (I missed whether it was John Kazek or Hugh Hodgart in my quick nip to the bar), a great writer never lets such references cloud his characters' actions and judgement, they must never be aware of them. Only of their motivation, as people. To paraphrase (as sadly, the dictaphone was not in hand) a great writer has great - in the sense of size - ideas which influence things in a much larger, broader, subtler way. Something I should try and remember, then.

Perhaps nudged by this remembrance of Hamlet, the similarity between Pierce Reid and Ben Whishaw - who groundbreakingly played Hamlet in a 'teenage-angst' fashion for Trevor Nunn's production at (not the National as I mistakenly claim but rather) the Old Vic a number of years ago - presented itself to me. Though there are clear differences - Whishaw's Hamlet seemed more consciously aware of his stroppiness as a tool for extracting guilt from his mother Gertrude, as opposed to the heart-sprung purity of Reid's writerly torment - strong talent nevertheless reinforces the comparison. Is Pierce Reid the new Ben Whishaw? While I hesitate to make such a parallel for the flippancy of a headline, there is surely no harm in predicting success for the young Scot.

This collaboration between Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and York Theatre Royal is something that we should laud and encourage, and I look forward to seeing more of this support for emerging talent across Britain.

Tickets for the last five performances of The Seagull at York Theatre Royal's Main Stage (which include 3 evening shows and two matinees) are available from

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