Theatre review: Seagulls

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The Volcano Theatre Company of Swansea can always be relied on to perform as if an explosive display of energy - accompanied by as much aggressive yelling, loud banging and vivid visual imagery as possible - is a better option than subtlety of any sort.

The Leith Volcano (Venue 183)


And so it is this year, as they unleash themselves on a brand new Edinburgh venue, in the glorious shape of the old St. James’s Episcopal Church in Constitution Street.

For their new version of Chekhov’s The Seagull they had been promising the flood the place, in an effort to conjure up the lake at the heart of Chekhov’s drama; in fact, all they manage is a rather dispiriting extended puddle somewhere up in the apse, which is not revealed to us until the third act, although the lake actually features most strongly early in the play.

None of that, though, diminishes the company inimitable energy and chutzpah, as they spend a whirlwind 75 minutes flinging a series of Fellini-like 1960’s expressionist images - among other things - across the sprawling body of Chekhov’s text, which happily seems more stunned than dead. Actors swing from ropes and almost thump the audience round the ears with their feet, poor ruined Nina wanders the pool in sun-glasses pushing a pram through the dank water, and Mairi Phillips - as our heroine, the domineering actress Irina Arkadina - rocks the kind of Glasgow middle-class accent that would strip varnish from an old wardrobe at 30 paces.

At least half of the show doesn’t work very well, and almost none of it adds much to our understanding of one of the world’s best-loved plays. Sometimes, though, you just want the kind of Fringe experience that takes you to an amazing Edinburgh bullding you’ve never seem before, grabs the place and the moment by the throat, and uses it to shake the bejasus out of some previously revered text; and Volcano’s Seagulls is a show that will do that for you, whether you like it or not.