The theme of The Seagull is always contemporary, especially in today’s society, where the problem of social alienation is becoming more serious and desertification of land is more like a metaphor for the soul. Under a flattening and de-historicising development, the world we are facing is specifically close to the conversation between Masha (Maria in Ross’s production) and the primary school teacher in the play, “The waves on the lake are enormous.”, “The theatre in the garden is like the skeleton (…) I thought I heard a voice weeping in it.” When contemporary people recast The Seagull, the question of “how should we live” is naturally inevitable. In the version jointly produced by the Reykjavik City Theatre from Iceland and the European emerging director Yana Ross, the young son is made to declare in front of the camera from the outset, that the Icelandic police are forcefully expelling the Gypsies, but in fact, they have nowhere to go. They are everywhere but they cannot go anywhere. Through this existential fable, the curtains are raised, proceeding to Maria’s famous opening line “I'm in mourning for my life”.
They are continuously playing meaningless party games, unable to focus and get serious, similar to shameless teenagers who just want to tell foolish jokes and vent their emotions, and they even delight in boorishness. Nevertheless, at the end of the games always comes a longer and never-ending sadness. For instance, at a wedding party, the plight of those kinds of unrequited, abandoned or restricted love appears to be even more like a dead end under the karaoke singing. The singer is chanting “you’d better run for your life” while ironically the characters in the play only possess powerless fatigue. This version outlines the collective empty frustration of our era, so why not continue to be absurd and ridiculous? This is exactly the poetic flavour of daily life and the real idea of comedy painstakingly created by Anton Chekhov. From the mediocre characters’ sarcasm and self-mockery, a gloomy tone and a sense of humour ridiculing life are permeating simultaneously.
By Ling-Chih Chow (Theatre devisor, dramaturge, critic and translator)
This article is excerpted and translated from Chinese.