Students across the world have had a very tough year, the young people of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (BOVTS) among them. But despite the immense challenges of lockdowns, social distancing, self-isolating and working online, the students deliver a very impressive performance in their graduation show, The Three Seagulls.
Directed by the fabulous Sally Cookson, who has the superb A Monster Calls in her list of credits, the production at Bristol Old Vic is based on three adaptations of Chekhov’s The Seagull.
We follow the story of Konstantin, a budding young actor desperately trying to make his way in the profession with a new type of theatre but overshadowed by his domineering actress mother Irina Arkadia.
Irina is the only character played by one person. Konstantin, his girlfriend Nina and Boris Trigorin, Irina’s famous author boyfriend, are among those all played by multiple people.
You’d think this would be confusing, particularly given that they are often all on stage at the same time, but we actually found this really inventive way to present theatre easy to follow due to the great costume design.
The four act play runs for 1 hour 45 minutes without an interval but the time flew by and we didn’t miss the lack of half time ice cream.
Released from Zoom rehearsals into a real life theatre, energy oozes from the cast as they leap on and off the scaffolding that forms the set.
There are some wonderful lip-syncing moments too as the actors mouth to hits like Radiohead’s Creep and we enjoyed the dancing finale when even the backstage technical crew join in on the action.
There are no weak links in the brilliant cast but we’ll give special mention to Tessa Wong who is superbly passionate and enjoyably funny as Irina, while Eliza Smith, one of those playing Nina, delivers an outstanding performance in a powerful scene when she returns to meet Konstantin after running away to London. (We won’t say why as that will give too much away).
If we have to say anything negative, there were a few points when the action was a little laboured but overall, we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Given the circumstances, the graduates would have been forgiven for not being at their best. As the BOTVS website says, they have “spent the best part of their final year masked up, sanitised and constrained”, but the tough times have clearly made them even more determined to put on a great show. Congratulations to the class of 2021!
The Three Seagulls is at Bristol Old Vic until 10 July.