Pleasant surprise of the week is a starry adaptation of Chekov’s classic play, which becomes a witty, elegant and emotionally persuasive drama with some top performances.
Saorsie Ronan emerges as the star, brilliant as wannabe actress Nina who rejects the amorous, earnest Konstantin (Billy Howell) for a doomed love for famous writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll). Saorsie really is wonderful to watch, her energy and confidence lighting up the screen every time she appears – her confusion and frustration when Konstantin presents her with a shot seagull is perfection.
It’s quite something to outshine even Annette Bening who, as grande dame actress Irina, gets the biggest laughs and the biggest lines. Of course, she delivers them impeccably as her character clings to youth and fame in a bid to ensnare Boris too.
Meanwhile, there’s funny stuff from Elisabeth Moss as lovelorn, black-clad Masha, sneaking a shot from her hip flask into her coffee at breakfast while bemoaning her stultifying country existence and fading ambitions.
Director Michael Mayer – better known as a theatre director on Broadway and in the West End – does a great job making Chekhov lively – the country house looks lovely not gloomy, the styling and the interiors all feel attractive and atmospheric where so many theatre productions make it too oppressive. Mayer injects energy to the ensemble playing and builds the criss-cross of thwarted affections into a delicate web of farce and tragedy. The subtle updates don’t feel forced and it remains very much a classic interpretation, one that could be taught in schools without boring the kids.
I didn’t fancy this at all, but laughed, smiled and enjoyed all the way, especially when Bening turned on the sneering wit and the theatrics and when Saorise Ronan turns her youthful idealism into a hopeful, desperate smile.