Not quite airborne

THEATRE; The Seagull Bath Theatre Royal

Trigorin, the celebrity novelist in Chekhov's The Seagull is a slave to literature. Life being grist to the ceaselessly grinding mill of his fiction, he can never afford to be off duty or without his little notebook. In an interpolated touch in Robert Sturua's new production, Trigorin (Aden Gillett) is even seen blatantly scribbling down notes at the end as he monitors the effect on Arkadina of that famous off-stage shot. Not that there is anything subtle for him to record here: indeed, short of actually lugging Constantine's corpse into the room, it's hard to see how the production could have made the suicide encroach less ambiguously on his mother and assembled guests. Her companions rise stagedly from the lotto table while, with a desperate wilfulness and for what feels like an eternity, Deborah Findlay's Arkadina persists in calling out the numbers.

Sturua's account of the play refuses to leave well alone. At the end of the third act, for example, it's not enough that Trigorin should make a furtive assignation to meet Nina in Moscow, where she plans to become an actress. No, Mr Gillett is required to cart her off in his arms, symbolically anticipating his drastic effect on her fate. With similar heavyhandedness, Michael Carter's Dorn, the observant doctor andlady-killer, is made at times a literally detached observer of the action and a fourth wall- shattering confider in the audience via speeches that have been converted into direct addresses.

The unduly abstract set by Georgie Alexi-Meskhishvili is no help. John Caird's recent Olivier production had an over-elaborate design, each scene adding a further proscenium arch frame to the action. But at least that kept the little stage-set on which Constantine's play was performed centrally in view throughout, and it was a poignant moment when, at the start of the last act, this structure collapsed. The designs here do not have that virtue. Even though Kate Beckinsale's fine Nina assumes nostalgically identical postures when she recalls her role in that playlet, the ruin of the set is nowhere to be seen.

Thelma Holt has assembled a talented cast, butthey aren't, yet, firing on all cylinders. Wonderful at the spoilt child manipulativeness of Arkadina, Deborah Findlay doesn't make you feel embarrassed on her behalf and you don't experience sufficient mortification during the scenes with her son, Constantine, played by Michael Sheen. He conveys the desperation of failure but not its pathos. All this may well improve during the run.

n Runs to Sat (01225-448844)

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