Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Five star: “What you go to the Fringe for...visuals are absolutely breathtaking"

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Volcano Theatre- Seagulls , The Leith Volcano , August-13-17
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Volcano Theatre- Seagulls Either there is star inflation in and around the Royal Mile or the shows are good. In the case of “Seagulls” the show is good. I was one of the few to review its first unveiling at Volcano's own Swansea High Street venue.

How it has transferred to Edinburgh is a wonder. It has been a project on a Volcano scale. But “Seagulls”, along with “Caitlin” and National Dance is part of the British Council Showcase. The company's Claudine Conway gave away the production's big visual surprise in an interview pre-Edinburgh with Wales Arts Review. Extracts from the interview:

“It’s called Seagulls and it is an extremely unusual version of Chekhov’s The Seagull. It’s both pared down (textually and in terms of the performance conventions that tend to accumulate around classic texts) and scaled up (it’s very ambitiously staged – we are creating an enormous real lake in a derelict Victorian-gothic church in Leith). It’s got great design (the original design was by a young Welsh designer called Camilla Clarke, and we’ve adapted it for this new and different setting), a great soundtrack, great choreography, and a fantastic cast – five performers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who climb stuff, get wet, fight, dance and wield axes with extraordinary vigour, humour and skill.”

The Edinburgh venue is not on the usual circuit: “...the church, which is not just an interesting backdrop for our show, but which we are transforming into a fully-functioning Fringe venue with a diverse theatre programme, a series of fantastic music events, and a great place to hang out, drink locally-brewed beer or locally-roasted coffee and eat freshly cooked Scottish produce.

It’s a Welsh-Scottish partnership project, made possible by the restless energy of a handful of people with crazy ideas and a small team of highly skilled people who can make them happen. Running a Fringe venue seems a lot to take on for a company that historically focused on touring...no one in their right mind is going to let you have a massive lake in your Fringe show in their venue, so you have to run your own.”

From Broadway Baby

In Seagulls, visuals are everything. And the visuals are absolutely breathtaking. Combined with the text, it raises the question, ‘is the look and the feel more important than the content within a piece of theatre?’ No firm conclusions are reached but with this production I suspect what the majority of audiences leave talking about is not what they have heard, but what they have seen.

The play explores Chekhov’s classic text The Seagull. To say it tells the story would be a push, but instead the company uses this material as its starting point, tearing it up and putting it back together in unexpected ways. The story is set within a theatre and the family’s clashing values on what makes good theatre. The characters would only need to step back and witness the production they are a part of to find the answer but, sadly, this is not possible.

Much of the action takes place beside a lake which forms a fully actualised part of the set, complete with an impressive quantity of water. Huge amounts of credit have to be given to Camilla Clarke, the set designer. Halfway through the performance the seating is switched from traverse to end on as a curtain is pulled back and the stunning design of the lake embedded in an old pulpit is revealed.

As a highly physical, site specific performance it is certainly something different, but these elements wouldn’t be enough to hold a production together if the performers were weak. Fortunately for Volcano Theatre this is far from the case. Each company member produces a spellbinding performance that fully carries both the tragedy and comedy intrinsic to the delivery of this show. As I left the space I overheard one audience member remark “that’s what you go to the Fringe for.” and I have to say, I couldn’t agree more.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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