Almost a month ago, I travelled to Sydney to see The Seagull at Belvoir. I absolutely intended to write a review of the show; in many ways I wish I had. But somewhere in between being caught up in the excitement that was a weekend in Sydney, and the overwhelm I felt from the production, every time I sat down to write something it felt like an impossible task.
Had it been in Adelaide (a small town, with fewer critical voices, and where most of my readers are) I’m sure I would have found a way to say what I could. It being in Sydney both gave myself a remove from the need to write about the production, and reviewers whom I keenly agree with: I feel James Waites in particular had a very similar experience as me, and wrote about it more eloquently than I could have.
But this week a friend asked me if I would describe Benedict Andrew’s script as a new Australian work. Saying no, he pressed me for a more detailed answer. Here was my response to him, mixed in with some of the thoughts I’ve scribed down over the past month whenever I’ve given this write-up a try:
To define Benedict Andrews’ The Seagull as a new Australian text or not inherently hinges on your definition of what exactly is a new Australian text, which to me implies a uniqueness of character, a separation of itself from works which came before it. If Andrews had used Chekhov’s script as a launching point to craft an original work, then perhaps my answer would be different. But for me, a true strength of the work was that Andrews was so faithful to the original as to truly highlight the timelessness and universality of themes on youth, art, country towns, and, with particular significance to me, of writing.
What Andrews did with Chekhov’s text is to set it in an inherently, unabashedly and unashamedly Australian setting. I, admittedly, don’t have an overly large knowledge of Chekhov, but it felt so honest and faithful to Chekhov I can’t believe it was anything but. He brought forth a contemporary context and an Australian vernacular to the work, but within this it still felt like a translation rather than an adaptation: he was just translating more than the language, he was also translating years and countries and context.