The Russian Arts Theatre
The Center at West Park
New York, 2019
052 – The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov
The Seagull is the first of the four dramatic masterpieces that Anton Chekhov wrote in the last ten years of his short life. It was nearly the end of his playwriting career, however, because the first night of its premier production in St Petersburg in 1896 was a disaster. The audience laughed unsympathetically throughout, and the boos that greeted the final curtain drove its author to flee the theatre and to spend the night in a park hiding from the critics.
Fortunately when the play was remounted two years later by Konsantin Stanislavski and his Moscow Arts Theatre it became a popular triumph. In fact this production and the play heralded an important development in the history of the theatre, with Chekhov writing a more naturalistic form of drama and Stanislavski establishing new methods of performance that were seminal in the evolution of modern drama in the 20th century. The finely poised balance between comedy and tragedy in The Seagull, where we simultaneously laugh at and pity characters who struggle to achieve the lives they dreamed of, became emblematic of Chekhov’s drama. It’s a balance that confused its first critics, but signalled a modern sensibility that we recognise in the existential drama of Beckett and Pinter.
I have long loved The Seagull and am delighted to welcome playwright and professor, Dan Rebellato, back to the podcast to review Chekhov’s classic, yet timeless, play.
The Footnotes to our episode on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov include how the Moscow Arts Theatre adopted the seagull as their emblem, Chekhov’s active love life, the principle of Chekhov’s Gun, who is Masha’s father, and the comedy and tragedy of Konstantin.
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Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.
I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.
Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson
Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?
I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.
Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.
Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.
Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.