Sunday, November 28, 2021

Flight of the Seagull

Chekhov Studio Theatre, based in the estate of Anton Chekhov in Moscow, takes audiences through one of the classics of the Russian playwright.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
February 7, 2017 1:52:15 am
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The Seagull by Anton Chekhov is the story of a woman who loves a man, and another woman who loves the same man, and a man who loves a woman and so on. The play is also a deeply intimate journey into Chekhov’s own soul. “The contradiction between the writers Boris Trigorin and Konstantin Treplyov is not just a clash between the classicist and a pioneer but the struggle of Chekhov himself,” says Vladimir Baicher, director of Chekhov Studio Theatre, a group based in the estate of the Russian playwright where he wrote the classic text. A stellar performance by consummate actors brought alive the play, Chekhov. Chaika (Chekhov’s Seagull) on the open lawn and an indoor space of the National School of Drama during the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. After an astounded audience filed out, Baicher talked about the many layers of the production.

Excerpts from an interview:

When you bring a play that is made for one venue to a different kind of venue, what are the techniques you employ?

The play lives in the Chekhov land, which is the museum estate of Anton Chekhov in the village of Melikhovo in the Moscow region. From my point of view, the estate is a miniature of settings in which The Seagull’s story takes place. There is a lake, a medical point, a croquet field, special roads and horses. All these spaces are used in the performance. For Delhi, we created a different form for the play. We said that the last act will be in a different place.

We decided that we shall use the plan of the mirror — so the audience sits on one side and looks at the opposite side in the first act, and then gets up and sits on the other side and looks back towards where they were sitting before. People and actors change places. We were not sure it will work but it worked.

How important is it for the audience to know the text before they attend a performance, especially in India, where you performed mainly in Russian?

I think it is better if they know the story. It’s a question of the context. In Russia, The Seagull is like a theatre Bible and all the people who go to theatre, they more or less know this play.

In Delhi, few people know the story. It was important that they understand the story and then, they understand how we tell this story. It’s twice shocking. We start the performance from the part when Masha destroys the theatre because some other woman is playing the role she wanted. That was a cue, because we decided that our play will begin with a very strong fighting scene.

Masha is jealous. She loves the director but she will destroy his theatre. This is quite often the case with a woman, believe me.

The woman loves a man but she can destroy all is work, especially because she loves him. Thus, we begin with a shock.

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The highlight of the performance was the high level of acting, which moved from realistic to fantasy. How did you create the acting style of the play?

The main problem was to find a focus. We did all the performances in a room, a black box. We went very realistically step by step over all the scenes. Then, we got the scenery from the designer. Then, we began to change the acting and to change the style because, in the open air, we needed a different voice that would carry far.

To do that, we had to have more emotional basics. In the first act, Arkadina suddenly starts to play a scene from Hamlet, because she is an actress and we decided to do it with a very theatrical effect. Immediately after that, they return to realistic performance. This amplitude keeps rising and falling.

What was the significance of the last act which takes the audience away from the open lawns into a closed space that has a museum-like setting?

The fourth act shifts to the inside of the building and the time frame — unlike the two-year space in Chekhov’s text — jumps to 120 years later. Modern era has a total different reality. Outside, there was greenery, a real carriage with real horses, feelings and emotions and inside, we have a television screen and walls and carpets that are like green screens against which films are shot.

This shows that we are not living. We want people to live but they don’t. They have their gadgets. The characters are crazy people, as lifeless as the numbers they shout out.

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