A PLAY about love, about art, about relationships, ambition, desire, the declines of the Anglo-Irish gentry, and the emergence of a new society - Anton Chekhov’s tragi-comedy The Seagull, in the acclaimed adaptation by Thomas Kilroy, is all of these things.
Druid Theatre Company is staging Kilroy’s adaptation of The Seagull, as an outdoor production, in Coole Park, south Galway - the former home of Lady Augusta Gregory - from August 6 to 21. The performance is also being filmed exclusively for the Galway International Arts Festival, and will be available on demand from Sunday September 5 to Sunday 12.
‘It’s about staying alive’
The Seagull is the latest in a series of productions Druid has been able to stage throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, including the new play by Sonya Kelly, Once Upon a Bridge; Boland: Journey of a Poet; an online screening of The Cherry Orchard; reaching audiences in 130 countries; the in-person stagings of the plays of Lady Gregory; and the poetry reading series filmed at Coole Park.
Druid has been remarkable for being able to produce work in an environment in which many others have found it impossible.
“It comes from the firmly held belief that if we’re not producing theatre, we do not exist, so you have to perform,” Druid’s artistic director, Garry Hynes, tells me during our Wednesday morning interview. “The determination on our part is to find whatever way we can to communicate with our audience, so there has been live streaming, outdoor theatre, there is a radio production we will have for next year, - it’s about staying alive.”
'The essence of theatre is live. It’s based on the actor and the audience, sharing the same space. Nothing is ever going to change that'
Garry says the challenges of an outdoor production for a play of this length, and reputation, have been “huge”, but again Druid has adapted to the circumstances, in order to meet Government health guidelines and ensure live theatre in Galway.
“With the Lady Gregory plays they were short, and we found the locations within Coole to match them to the locations of the plays,” says Garry. “With The Seagull, we have built a small theatre and auditorium in Coole, and there will be seating for the audience.
“This is a major play, one of the great plays of world literature, with a large cast, and the audience needs that sense of being able to concentrate. Being in the open air allows us to perform in a way we couldn’t do otherwise, and we will be abiding by all the Government guidelines.”
A film will be made of the theatrical performance by cinematographer, Colm Hogan, for streaming by the GIAF. The pandemic has seen the emergence of the hybrid festival and event - a live, in person, show with an audience in the venue, which is also watched by an online audience. Does Garry think this kind of hybrid experience of theatre will remain post-pandemic?
'Thom said when he wrote it originally, it was about the Anglo-Irish politics of the time, but now he sees the play as being about love'
“I think some elements will remain,” she says. “It was fabulous to present Boland and then hear reaction from audiences in different countries, and the access that online allows people, but the essence of theatre is live. It’s based on the actor and the audience, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, and nothing is ever going to change that. As soon as it’s safe, we will be in the theatre again. Live is what theatre is.”
‘Creation and fidelity’
Following the DruidGregory performances at Coole Park in September 2020, a suggestion was made that Druid should consider staging The Seagull there. “It’s been a wonderful match,” says Garry.
Anton Chekhov reads The Seagull to members of the Moscow Art Theatre Company.
Instead of opting for Chekhov’s original from 1896, Druid chose the adaptation by Irish playwright, Thomas Kilroy - first staged in 1981, and starring the late, great, Alan Rickman - which moves the action from Russia to an Anglo-Irish estate in the west of Ireland in the 1880s (“Somewhere like Coole,” says Garry ).
Isobel Desmond, and her son Constantine, leave London to spend the summer at the family home in Ireland where they will battle artistic disappointments and unrequited love.
'There is a lot of talk about art and what it means, what it is'
“Checkov wrote his play in the 1890s, while Thom sets his version a decade earlier,” says Garry, “but in doing that, it’s exciting the way he found such a relationship between the context in which Checkov wrote the play, in terms of what was going on in Russia at the time, and what was happening in Ireland a decade earlier - a model of society that was beginning to fray at the edges and break down, that there were possibilities, that it was a dangerous time, a premonition that things will get worse, a sense that things are changing.
Eileen Walsh. Photo:- David Conachy
“There’s one character in the play who keeps his original name from the Chekhov original, Constantine - except everyone calls him Connie - and he writes a play in a modern manner, and Thom finds a version of that, to reflect people like Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival. He finds all these kinds of parallels, and turns a different light on them, putting them in an Irish context. His adaptation of the play is both creation and fidelity.”
‘Art and love’
The Seagull has been described by Frank McGuinness as a “play obsessed with success and failure”. In an article for the Irish University Review in 1991 he wrote: “Those who fail do so in spectacular fashion. It could be argued that these failures are rooted in fate, but it might be more accurate to state that their roots lie in frustrated desire. Almost everyone in the play shares one or two desires, to be a writer or a performer.”
For Garry, the genius of the play - both Checkov’s original and Kilroy’s adaptation - is that the passage of time can change how it is viewed, continually giving it many meanings and resonances, and most importantly, relevance.
Marie Mullen. Photo:- Matthew Thompson
“The play is about life, and life for a particular group of people,” she says. “The main character is an actor and her son puts on a play. The girl he is in love with wants to be an actress, but her lover is a writer. There is a lot of talk about art and what it means, what it is. It’s about art and love really.
“Thom has written new programme notes for this production. He said that when he wrote it originally, it was about the Anglo-Irish politics of the time, but now he sees the play as being about love. It’s lovely to get that perspective from him this far away when he originally wrote it.”
The Seagull is directed by Garry Hynes. The cast includes Jack Gleeson, Eileen Walsh, Marie Mullen, Marty Rea, Brian Doherty, Liam Heslin, Bosco Hogan, Bláithín MacGabhann, Agnes O’Casey, and John Olohan.
For tickets to watch the screenings of The Seagull go to www.druid.ie. Early bird tickets of €15 are available until Sunday August 15. See also www.giaf.ie. While the in person performances are sold out, a waiting list is available to join, should any tickets become available.