Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896), a quietly unsettling “comedy in four acts”, is pepped up in Argentinian director Daniel Veronese‘s abridged Spanish version, Los Hijos Se Han Dormido. The setting is rural Russia, where a group of ‘artists’ – some past their best, others frustrated with their future, a third lot not able to enjoy their present success – spend their summers explicitly expelling their anxieties and searching for meaning, while implicitly being under the control of dark inner forces.
Each character is desperately in love with another: the schoolmaster Medvedenko with Masha, Masha with the young writer Konstantin, Konstantin with young yokel Nina, Nina with the older writer Trigorin. None of these feelings are reciprocated, and feelings for one person are misunderstood and dismissed in another. Empathy glimmers but it is only palpable between those who do not share strong emotions.
It’s a pretty pessimistic piece and no less so in Veronese’s brilliant production, made more modern in its less wordy more pacey approach, like a comic opera with its numerous entrances and exits. The wired atmosphere on stage in which lots of things are only overtly happening, contrasted with the huge, eventful leaps between the acts, enhances both an overall sense of frustration shared by the characters, and the utter boredom, or the fear of it, that lies at its heart of frenetic activity.
“A young girl lives all her life on the shore of a lake. She loves the lake, like a seagull, and she’s happy and free, like a seagull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom. Like this seagull.”
Trigorin, the literary villain of the piece who delivers these lines, is also the one big survivor in the play, for much like the actress Arkadina he has learnt to see life as if it were a story for which he is “responsible, but not guilty”. The seagull he refers to, that is later stuffed, could be seen to be a symbol of freedom culled by “boredom”, as if this were the ignoble prime instinct that drives all human nature … Yet such truths are as slippery as everything else in Chekhov’s timeless play, performed with great vivacity by this group of Spanish actors.
For an interview in Spanish with Veronese and some of the performers, click here.