Friends come and go, but great art stays with you forever. That was the lesson I took from my first ever Chekhov play at the Southwark Playhouse in late 2012. A new version of The Seagull by Anya Reiss. Essentially there is no real narrative: a quixotic young writer loves an actress, who ends up falling for a careerist novelist and the writer is prematurely destroyed by his talent.
A seagull is shot down for no reason and adrift in a chaos of dreams, the symbolism of the dead bird has never left me. I found it incredibly moving how our desire for love, art and fame can be eliminated for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a reason for anything. The poignancy of the show was further heightened when I discovered Anya Reiss was only twenty one.
A sweet envy immediately overwhelmed me. That someone so young could write something so perceptive and insightful about life. How was this possible? On capturing the starry realities of self-sabotage, Reiss’s version was fresh, sexy and remarkably wise at the same time.
Sad, gorgeous and retaining the worldly elegance of Chekhov’s prose, I have an enormous affinity for Reiss’s adaptation and I still think about it to this day. As you don’t know what is going to happen to you or what will shoot you down. And the following year I fell out with the two friends who accompanied me and I have never spoken to them since.
A big argument took place one afternoon in Brick Lane about ethics and human behaviour. Beforehand I thought we were just going for dinner. Discussing work, dating and the weather. Nothing could have predicted how such a pathetic argument would turn toxic within seconds. But I don’t regret falling out with either of them.
Private grievances usually exist between friends, but you rarely express them in person. Our fracture points usually remain concealed behind social pleasantries and diplomatic wisdom. But pushing an emotional fracking over a point of principle is ill advised at a restaurant table in my experience.
However, if it weren’t for my ex-friends I would never have seen The Seagull and for that alone I am grateful. It stayed with me forever and eighteen months later I watched Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Southwark Playhouse. My ex-friends have long since disappeared and I briefly thought of them when I took my seat. How things can change so quickly, when watching another Chekhov play about inexplicable forces by a playwright over a decade younger than me.
Three Sisters is running at the Southwark Playhouse until May 3rd 2014.