By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHEN?: Saturday 2 July, running to 10 September 2022
Game Of Thrones goes Chekhov in this long-awaited Jamie Lloyd adaptation featuring the West End debut of Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) alongside fellow GoT star Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand).
- Read on for reasons including how this is a modest choice of a role for the Mother of Dragons
The last play we saw at the Harold Pinter was Jodie Comer’s unforgettable West End debut in the one-woman Prima Facie 3 months ago and while its 2023 Broadway transfer was inevitable this production has more work to do to convince that it deserves a similar New York journey.
We were due to see this production at the Playhouse Theatre in March 2020 but Covid meant it closed while it was in previews and before its opening night.
It bears many similarities to the last Lloyd we saw – Cyrano de Bergerac starring James McAvoy which will doubtless transfer to Broadway also – with an emphasis on the spoken word with its cast wearing microphones affixed to their faces to ensure that every nuance of their speech is amplified.
We’ve twice reviewed The Seagull before and this production, sharply penned by Anya Reiss, focusses in on the theme of unrequited love with all those gathered in a Russian country house by a lake in love with the wrong people.
in 2016 we saw the imperious Anna Chancellor at the National Theatre as fading actress actress Irina and said the production was ‘absolutely dominated by a showstopping performance by Chancellor as domineering mother and actress Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina’.
Varma (who won an Olivier for Present Laughter, Old Vic) plays her here and makes the most of the back-handed compliments and withering put-downs Reiss gifts her.
She is the mother of aspiring playwright Konstantin given life by Daniel Monks (monsta Best Theatre Actor winner for Teenage Dick, Donmar) whose devotion to Clarke’s character Nina is all the more heartbreaking because it seems to completely pass her by.
We saw Brian Vernel play the character opposite Lesley Sharp at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in 2017 and said: ‘(Simon) Stephens’ rock’n’roll version is heavy on the alcohol (everything, even bottles of Champagne are downed in one), ‘Tino strums at his electric guitar when he is at his most unhappy and the sets in this modern-day version are a riot of both spot and fairy lights.’
If it’s Clarke you’re here to see, arrive at the venue early because she takes to the stage a full 15 minutes before curtain up and, although there were signs not to take pictures, many of the audience were doing so as she sat impassively on a chair at the back of the stage that it left us a little feeling like she was an animal in a zoo.
Her character Nina is initially in awe of successful writer Trigorin, an engaging Tom Rhys Harries, the younger lover of Irina.
The Seagull is very much an artists’ piece with its cast of writers and actresses and we enjoyed Trigorin’s lack of faith in his own ability, a feeling later encapsulated beautifully and yet almost cruelly by Clarke.
The star of film Last Christmas and of course Game Of Thrones appeared as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s on Broadway in 2013 and this West End debut is competent, unshowy and far from the by-the-balls nature of Comer’s which is doubtless set to take the US by storm.
The cast she has chosen to surround herself is especially strong and we felt the pain of Suzy Wu’s Masha as her mooning after Konstantin similarly went unrewarded and her unhappiness saw her settle for 2nd best and a life she clearly wasn’t enjoying.
We’ve seen a lot of Jamie Lloyd and this production was 1 that benefitted from a sharp lens on the subject that makes this classic tick – unrequited love – and its emphasis on the rehearsal room, spoken word and switch to the present day meant it was easy to appreciate why this play is still considered to be 1 of Chekhov’s best.