Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Volcano Erupting

Seagulls

Volcano , Bunker Theatre, Swansea , April-24-15
Seagulls  by Volcano The characters of Chekhov may yearn for the city they rarely reach. But marooned in the country they certainly like to speak about it. Every character in “the Seagull” talks of the lake that abuts the action of Chekhov’s 1895 play. It is that attention in the source material for Volcano’s wild and thrilling version that designer Camilla Clarke has focussed on. The theatrical impact of her concept is achieved in two ways. Not only is the design audacious and excitingly original but director Paul Davies has arranged the action in such a way that its full realisation only becomes clear to the audience in a stunning visual coup.

The Bunker Theatre is a slightly euphemistic term for Volcano’s newest home. It does not quite conform to a notion of theatre as a place of architectural flourish and interior finish. The large, unfolding, formerly commercial space has its ceiling of blistered paint, punctured plaster and sawn-off, angled rods. But if theatre is a place where players and musicians, choreographers and designers assemble to fuse sequences and images that matter, then that makes the Bunker total theatre.

Some motifs from Chekhov’s provincial Russia appear. The philosophically-minded Doctor is a regular. “All life must end” says the realist Doctor Dorn “It’s the natural order of things.” Mairi Phillips wields a sizeable axe to chop wood but her Arkadina is less a grandee of conventional presentation than a storming, physically provocative figure. The play-within-a-play is earthy, declamatory and ecstatic. “Indulgent, avant-garde shit” is her verdict in a vibrant Scots accent. Joanna Simpkins’ Nina is a rapturous, animated, free spirit. Trigorin, Konstantin and Dorn are the balletic Gethin Alderman, Christopher Elson and Neal McWillliams.

Catherine Bennett is movement director for the action that ascends to points of wildness. An all-cast dance to the Clash and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” is a highlight. But the rhythm is leavened by a sequence of some embarrassed comedy. It features the use of five suitcases and, Volcano-style, very little else.

The last Volcano production at Edinburgh was an elusive whispering chamber piece. “Seagulls” is its counterpoint, large in scale with a notable sound design. Eifion Porter’s role as set constructor is crucial. The sound includes singing from a bass voice so deep that it does full honour to the liturgical tradition of Russia.

“What we need is new theatre, what we need is new forms” declares Konstantin early on. It is a need that “Seagulls” supplies in full. Over in the world of microblogs, with its tendency to extremes of malice balanced with hyperbole, there is much to cheer the makers of “Seagulls.” “Beautiful, bold and brave” writes one viewer of disguised identity. “Bold. Audacious. Riveting. Explosive. Exuberant. Watch if you can. Great theatre” writes a Goodacre without prename. As a reaction in just eleven words the author has got every word dead right.

“Seagulls” continues until 2nd May.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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