Theatre review: The Seagull and Other Birds at Project Arts Centre

Although their work could be mistaken for banal ‘postmodern’ parody, Irish theatre company Pan Pan have a seriousness that resists the jaded flippancy that often passes for subversion. So, while their bizarre take on Chekhov’s classic The Seagull is playful, daft, and ‘meta’, it’s also thrumming with something visceral and enigmatic, the sad, perhaps pointless passion of the human.

Chekhov’s acerbic play is about artists reflecting on art, its potential, and the gratifying status of the artist, while missing opportunities for emotional connection. In Pan Pan’s version for the Dublin Theatre Festival, it is pop culture, the wind beneath all of our wings, that replaces art as an object of torment. Telling nods to zeitgeist guff, like TV show Girls and gangsta rap aesthetics, may leave you suspecting, as the characters onstage repeatedly do, that “there’s something wrong with me”. But if there’s something wrong with us, then surely it’s that our culture insistently tells us that there is something wrong with us.

The opening sequence casts the performers as damaged auld créatúrs, decked out in ballet gear, bobbing along solo to the Happy Mondays. And it never lets up from there. The lacerations of the original text are inspired, exemplified by Una McKevitt, Samantha Pearl, and Dick Walsh taking the dominant note from Chekhov’s characters and then carrying them to delirious extremes. Sure, there’s the odd dull passage amid the mayhem, but — redeeming their myriad dysfunctions — the wonky-feathered folk onstage effortlessly win you over. Not only fine feathers make for fine birds.

4/5

Padraic Killeen

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