The Company of The Seagull. Photo: Tristram Kenton.
Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin, 39, was born in a small industrial town. His father left when he was very young and he was raised alone by his mother, who worked as a secretary. He came to the capital in his twenties to make it as a writer. After a long, difficult patch he became a successful and prolific author. This success happened pretty recently. He writes novels and plays in the naturalistic tradition practised by Tolstoy and Turgenev. He is an obsessive fisherman with a strong emotional connection to the natural world. He likes well-made things and is fascinated by how they work. He has been in a relationship with the actress Irina Arkadina for just under a year. They met at the opening of one of her plays. Boris has a complex relationship with his writing. In some ways it mirrors Chekhov. Here is Anton Pavlovich himself, from one of his letters: 'It is not much fun to be a great writer. To begin with, it's a dreary life. Work from morning till night and very little to show for it. Money is as scarce as cats' tears. I don't know how it is with Zola and Shchedrin, but in my flat it is cold and smoky ... Nevertheless, authorship has its good points. First, according to the latest reports my book is going well; secondly, in October I shall have money; thirdly, I am beginning to reap laurels: I am pointed out in refreshment rooms; attentions are shown me, and I am treated to butterbread'.
Ilya Afanasyevic Shamrayev. is 48 years old, married with one daughter and works as the Estate manager for Petr Sorin. He was born only a few miles from where he now lives and, apart from his time in the army, he has spent my whole life there. He has known his wife Polina since childhood and they married 23 years ago. Their daughter is Masha.
Irina is the “grand dame” of the Moscow theatre scene. She hates being reminded of her age. Despite what Konstantin says, she is a fantastic actress; charismatic, sensitive and wildly articulate. She also understands the industry. She toured all over the country when she was younger, taking Konstantin with her. Konstantin’s father was a Kiev salesman and she is still hurt by his actions even now. These days she is pragmatic. She looks after her wardrobe, her looks and is conscious of the need to be at the right parties and be seen amongst the right company. She is the sort of person who is conscious of being à la mode in terms of following French style and culture, but is perfectly happy to tear apart other parts of French culture, particularly their attitudes to women. Her relationship with Boris is a complicated mixutre of all of these things. She has brought Boris to her family’s country estate to show him a picture of her idyllic childhood and to entice him with the possibility of rural summer holidays.
Konstantin Trepylev wants "to do something, be heard, be someone". He is 24 and the son of leading lady Irina Arkadina. Until he was old enough to go to boarding school, he grew up in his mother’s pocket as she toured the regions working for various theatrical companies before she became a star. Not only has he grown up in her shadow, but his relationship with her has become a slave to her professional life; she's an actress, not a mother. As he has grown up in and around the theatre he has artistic bones and a great mind but he doesn't know where or how to channel them. He has come to loath the superficial, glitz and glamour, money and power structures of the theatre. He views mainstream theatre as soulless and predictable. Ultimately he hates it because it robbed him of his mother. He was kicked out of university and so his talent and intelligence feel lost in the world. Like a devil on his shoulder, he watches and judges himself through his mother's eyes and thus is forever stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Frustrated and lonely, the only light in the black hole he has fallen into is his childhood friend Nina. Nina Zarachneya is the love of Konstantin's life.
Masha is 20 years old. She is an anomaly on the estate. As a child she played games with Konstantin. Her relationship with Semyon has reached a crisis point. She is unhappy and has been for years. She has a fierce and brilliant sense of humour but she is trapped – by the estate, by the weather, by her own fierce intellect – so her humour is a protection against the outside world. She is trying to snap out of how she feels. She can’t connect with her family, with her father Ilya or her mother Polina, and so she desperately tries to connect with the others who arrive on the estate. Masha spends her time smoking, drinking vodka and thinking about her place in the Russia of the past, present and future. She feels like she was born in the wrong century, always two steps behind.
Nina Zarechnaya is 20 years old and lives on the other side of the lake. She has lived by the lake her whole life. Her mother died when Nina was young and she now lives with her father and stepmother who try to keep her locked away as much as possible. When Nina can escape for an hour or two she sees Konstantin in secret and they work on his play. She loves reading books and plays and dreams of one day being an actress. On the day of the performance of Konstantin’s play, Boris Trigorin has come to the estate with Irina for a weekend away. Over the weekend Nina and Boris end up talking. They find that they can talk honestly to one another and, through these conversations, they form an intimate bond. This bond eventually leads Nina to Moscow, to fulfil her dream of being on stage, but Moscow is a cold and hard city where Nina has to grow up fast and learn about the reality of the world.
Petr has been in the civil service for 28 years. He was once a city man, enjoying its rhythm and life. The estate used to be somewhere he dreamed of; his an annual escape, somewhere to relax by the lake away from the city, smoke and drink. Now it is a place of boredom. He dreams of being back in the city and reminisces about his life to whoever will listen. His joints are getting worse and he has been suffering with high blood pressure, but he is still asked to perform civil duties in the nearby town. He is supportive of his sister Irina and even more so of the young artist Konstantin. When the Doctor Dorn comes to stay, they spar like two grumpy old men, but there is much love there. He is not the best manager of Ilya, who seems to be understaffed and under resourced. Who knows what will happen to the Estate in the coming years. His pension is being slowly drained away by an investment which isn’t self-sufficient to support his, Irina’s and Konstantin’s current lifestyle.
Polina Andreyevna Shamrayeva is 42 years. She was born in a town about 130 miles south of Moscow, near to Pyotr Sorin’s estate, in Tula province. Her father, Andrei, was a merchant, mostly trading in cotton, who was often absent on business. She’s the eldest of five children, one of whom died in infancy. Her mother, Marya ,also took in laundry to add to the family’s income. A family friend helped Polina learn bookkeeping and she used to do her father’s accounts. When she was 19, she married Ilya Afanasyevich Shamrayev, also a local man. They had gone to school together. He had then spent time in the army. At first they lived in her parent’s house in town, while they were saving up for their own place. Then , a couple of years into their marriage, Ilya landed the job of manager on Pyotr Sorin’s estate, five miles from town. The job came with a house, the gatehouse on the estate. About a year into her marriage, Polina suffered what was probably an ectopic pregnancy and was treated by Dr Yevgeny Dorn. They began a long affair, which resulted in the birth of her daughter, Masha.
Semyon Medvedenko is a Geography teacher at a local school. His father died when he was a teenager, leaving himself, his mother and two sisters to fend for themselves in a radically changing social and financial climate. The inheritance he received was spent largely on Semyon’s education and enabled him to pursue a career in teaching. If funds were more freely available he might have gone on to read medicine or something equally objective and scientific. Semyon is a man of science. He has an insatiable desire to learn and to broaden his repertoire of knowledge in all manner of subjects, from wildlife to the relationship between the mind and the soul or between matter and spirit. He is a thinker. He is crumbling under the pressure and burden of being the sole provider for his entire family. He is in a very dark place from the very top of the play. Masha and Semyon have been friends since childhood, a time span stretching back to their school days. Semyon has been a visitor to Sorin’s estate for many years and is therefore familiar with all the characters in The Seagull except for Trigorin. Nina was an ex-pupil of his, so he experiences a strong sense of pride at the idea that she will perform in Konstantin’s play, however this is quickly dissipated by the play’s strong language and its graphic nature. Semyon doesn’t have an artistic bone in his body. He comes to the estate because he feels a sense of release in the surroundings and it’s probably his one and only social avenue. Over the years Semyon has become increasingly fond of Masha, unfortunately for him Masha doesn’t feel the same way about him.
Yevgeny Dorn is 55 years old and has been working as a doctor for 30 years. At 19, he entered the medical department of the University in Moscow and graduated at 25. He chose to work as a country doctor rather than to attach himself to a major hospital, which is what most doctors do. His work is difficult and very demanding. He often works in freezing and dangerous conditions, but it is his life. He specialised in obstetrics and has presided over the births of most of the young people in the community, as well as attending to the needs of their parents. He has never married or had a family of his own but he feels strong emotional ties to many of the people in his community. His own health is not very good and he needs a rest!