The Theatreguide.London Review
Notebook of Trigorin
something that is at the very least a fascinating oddity - a late
Tennessee Williams play, unproduced in his lifetime, that is his take
on Chekhov's Seagull.
first saw it a
few years ago, in an inept student production that convinced me that
the play itself was pretty bad, and it is one of the significant
accomplishments of Phil Wilmott's London premiere that it successfully
corrects that impression.
isn't a great
play, but it is an honourable failure, and one that will interest
lovers of both Williams and Chekhov, even as they are aware of its
problem is that
Williams, who characteristically worked and reworked the text over
decades, could never quite decide whether this was to be a translation,
an adaptation, or a new work inspired by Chekhov.
least half of
the play is essentially direct translation, and much of the rest is
just minimal paraphrase. Only a few key scenes and one central
characterisation have been completely rewritten - and these, alas, are
by far the weakest parts of the text.
imposes his vision he coarsens things - the doctor's cruelty, Masha's
treatment of her hapless husband, Arkadina's blackmailing of Trigorin
(threatening to out his bisexuality) to keep her hold on him, and worst
of all, the final Kostya-Nina scene, which has none of the original's
heartbreaking beauty. (I don't know if bringing a dead body onstage at
the very end was Williams' idea or Willmott's - in either case it's a
the other hand,
the change in Trigorin, while perhaps a bit too much projection on the
part of the playwright, makes that character more understandable and
sympathetic, and the one piece of Williams' rewriting that does work is
changing Trigorin's outburst to Nina on the obsessiveness of writing
into a meditation on the connection between homosexuality and
the play to the American South in the 1920s in order, a programme note
suggests, to capture the sound of Williams' voice. The change doesn't
accomplish much, especially since the characters retain their Russian
names and references.
to suggest that what we are seeing is Trigorin's after-the-fact
fictionalisation of events does work nicely, and helps to bring that
character to the fore, as Williams intended.
makes Trigorin more approachable and sympathetic than most players of
the Chekhov version are able to, while Rob Heaps nicely captures the
boyish vulnerability of Kostya, especially in the early scenes, and
Carolyn Backhouse has the courage to play Arkadina in all her vanity,
cruelty and self-deception without trying to soften her or charm the
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Notebook of Trigorin - Finborough 2010