Modigliani and Chekhov
‘Young girl lives on shore of lake since childhood – like you. Loves the lake – like the seagull. Is happy and free – like the seagull. Then one day a man turns up, sees her, and mindlessly destroys her.’
We’re in London at the moment, at th Royal Academy during the afternoon to see the Modigliani exhibition, and at the Lyttelton Theatre in the evening to see Juliet Stevenson and Ben Whishaw in The Seagull.
The exhibition at the Royal Academy is entitled Modigliani and His Models, and it is exactly that. His models include portraits of the artistic community in Montparnasse; the writer Beatrice Hastings; a series of professional models who sat for the nudes; several peasants and young working men and women from the south of France; the wife of his dealer, Hanka Zborowska; another friend, Lunia Czechowska; and his companion, Jeanne Hébuterne.
The exhibition is a delight and continues until the 15th October.
Juliet Stevenson has said, ‘It’s good to do things that you are scared of.’ In the symbolism of Chekhov’s play the seagull comes to represent lost dreams. And in this version the translator, Martin Crimp, and the director, Katie Mitchell, have combined to cut down the text and reposition parts of the play in an attempt to offer something more and something new to a modern audience.
This, of course, within the spirit of the play . . . as one of the characters insists: We need new forms. New forms are needed, and if we can’t have them, then we had better have nothing at all.
The Seagull centres on the conflicts between four theatrical characters: the ingenue Nina, the fading leading lady Irina Arkadina (Stevenson), her son the experimental playwrite Konstantin Treplyov (Whishaw), and the famous middlebrow story writer Trigorin. Chekhov drew freely on the text and theme of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and at times The Seagull is not unlike a mirror image of Hamlet.
This was a great production, very different to the Jude Kelly version (translated by Tom Stoppard), with Ian McKellan, which we saw at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I can’t remember when, way back in 1999?