Preview: The Seagull @ New Wimbledon Studio

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By Andrew Belt

Expect Chekhov with a 1920s England twist.

That’s the outlook for the sold-out audience attending Black Coffee Theatre’s adaption of Anton Chekhov’s 19th Century play The Seagull at New Wimbledon Studio tonight.

The adaption was developed by Luke Adamson and Jonathan Holby was tasked with directing what artistic director, Maria Crocker, describes as something the Downton Abbey crowd will surely appreciate.

On the evening before the opening night in Wimbledon, I met up with Maria, 24, who also plays Masha in the play, and Nina Bright, 27, who appropriately will be bringing her interpretation of chief character, Nina, to the fold for the company which was formed in Tooting.

“We’ve set it in the 1920s because we didn’t want to make it totally modern so that it wasn’t period, which changes the play if you do that, but we wanted to make it accessible to audiences who like Downton Abbey and that sort of thing,” says Maria.

As suits the company policy, the play is abridged and lasts 90 minutes and Maria explains that the idea behind that is to cater for the YouTube generation and ensure no one can complain that their productions are too time-consuming.

Sitting in The Old Frizzle Bar opposite the theatre, the two women clearly get on very well, laughing in unison, and I notice their choice of drink is not alcoholic which augurs well for tomorrow!

Expressing themselves to be more excited than nervous, Maria is confident that tonight’s opening performance of a two-week nationwide tour will surpass their rehearsals.

She says: “We did a run-through today and it went really well and we had an invited audience in and a few friends. So tomorrow can only get even better!”

The show has been a year in the making and involved Luke reading both English and Russian versions of the play before adding his own interpretation into the mix. Nina has a special reason for relishing her role.

“It’s just one of those parts that you really want to do. Actually I thought, as I’m getting older and Nina’s very young, I might not get the chance to do it. I really wanted to show people my version,” she explains.

The play also features Trigorin much younger than may be normally expected, as the company wanted to explore the Oedipus Complex with his character, adds Maria tantalisingly.

The Middlesbrough-born artistic director/actress is happy to be playing Masha as it marks a departure from her previous roles since the theatre company started three years ago.

“I never do anything upstage. I’m always downstairs. I’m always the servant or the prostitute or someone like that and so I thought: do you know what, I’m going to play Masha,” she says.

“You nailed it,” Nina offers encouragingly.

You get the impression that the play will seek out a lot of the emotion which is usually left open to interpretation, and they’ve decided to make the tragedy more tragi-comic in what appears to be an effort to draw the audience in and experience empathy with the characters.

Wimbledon won’t host Black Coffee Theatre for long as they will go where the work takes them, so the night, which forced an extra row to be opened such was the demand, will be a rare chance to catch their work.

Summing up the play in a nutshell, Maria says: “It’s an inside eye into human life.”

And who’s not interested in the workings of us humans?

The play will take them from Berwick to Exeter, in ‘our little van’ as Maria describes it. So catch them while you can!

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