The Black Swan Theatre Company’s latest production is Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. X-Press spoke to actress Leila George about her role as the ingénue Nina, the regard this play is held in, and a rather curious theatre tradition associated with The Seagull.
“It’s very exciting for me,” George tells us. “As it’s my first job out of school, and it’s Chekhov, and I am one of the leads. It’s significant, as I’ve been studying this play at school and now I’m doing it, and it is such a good character to transforms so much. So it’s not that I just get to play one thing. In the first couple of acts she is naive and young, but by the end she has had terrible things happen to her and is very broken and needs to be fixed. She’s got a good arc. It’s always fun to have a character with an interesting arc. I feel she is also the only one who can survive, because she is the youngest and has more life to live. She can bear it and can use it all for experience.”
As to how George feels about her debut being such a pivotal role in this well-regarded classic, “It’s very daunting. I’ve never had anyone pay anything to come and see me act before. I have such a skilled group of actors around me, which works in both ways. It’s a scary thought trying to keep up with them, but it’s also useful as they have so much good advice to give. They keep me on my toes, and I think, I keep them on their toes… a bit.”
In fact one of those skilled actors is someone George is very familiar with. The role of Akardina is played by George’s own mother, Greta Scacchi. This represents somewhat of a tradition of staging the play, with both Vanessa Redgrave and Gwyneth Paltrow having acted alongside their daughters in The Seagull.
With an updated translation by Hillary Bell, director Kate Cherry presents a play that is both of the period and timeless. Although set at the end of the 19th century, the language is modernised slightly. “It’s easier for us to understand and to speak as it’s more in our day to day language.” However the play is still the same, speaking to audiences today as it did over a hundred years ago. “That’s why Chekhov is so brilliant and why his writing has survived so long, because he is totally relatable. The fear of not being good enough at what you do, young people’s addiction to fame, all the love, cheating and temptation – absolutely totally relatable themes. That’s why people do them still.”
Yet there is space for interpretation, allowing the actors to adapt and grow in the roles. “His plays are all about constant laughing or constant crying and that’s one of the beauties about it. These scenes can be done in both ways. The beauty of it is if something is supposed to be sad, you can still laugh through it, and people will understand the scene.”
The Seagull runs at the State Theatre Centre until August 31. For session times and tickets, head here.