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Chekhov in lockdown

An Auckland Theatre Company adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull could go horribly wrong or it could be a groundbreaking coup.

The 19th century Russian playwright’s groundbreaking work dramatises romantic and artistic conflicts between famous middlebrow story writer Boris Trigorin, the ingenue Nina, the fading actress Irina Arkadina, and her son, the symbolist playwright Konstantin Treplyov.

The Seagull is set on a country estate, but a new online version by Eli Kent and Eleanor Bishop, directed by Bishop, brings this landmark piece of theatre to the 21st century.

Delivered in 30 minute instalments over four weeks, this production will be rehearsed, performed and broadcast all online.

The actors will have just one week per episode to read the script, learn their lines and rehearse, ready to broadcast on Friday of that week.

“It’s a comedy,” wrote Chekhov in 1895.

“There are three women’s parts, six men’s, four acts, landscapes (view over a lake); a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love.”

But 125 years later, the original country estate setting is now the online conference platform Zoom, a feature of life in lockdown.

In the ATC production, Chekhov’s characters congregate over Zoom and are reimagined with a Kiwi twist. In a commentary of our world in lockdown, the characters are searching for meaning in their lives while battling love, jealousy, dissatisfaction, dreams, hopes and plans — and malfunctioning video calls.

The drama all plays out in self-isolation and over virtual interactions with each other.

ATC’s retelling of Chekhov’s The Seagull is created by an artistic team and cast that includes Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Stephen Lovatt and Bruce Phillips, all from their own bubbles.

Chekhov’s The Seagull will be presented in four 30 minute episodes at 7pm on Fridays. The production began on May 8. Episode one is available online via www.youtube.com/user/AucklandTheatreCo (or the shortcut https://tinyurl.com/lcdw3l). Episode two screens tomorrow night.

BUBBLING: Russian playwright Anton Chekhov reads The Seagull with the Moscow Art Theatre company. Now, more than a century later, the Auckland Theatre Company presents a lockdown adaptation. Picture supplied