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Tuesday, 10 July 2007

From Russia, with love

The director Ian Rickson has decided that the best way to perform Chekhov's The Seagull at the Royal Court is to give his cast a crash course in the art of being Russian.

Rickson, who is staging his last play as the theatre's artistic director, took his leading lady Kristin Scott Thomas - who will play the actress Arkadina - to Moscow so she could scope out the city and meet Russian actors.

"It's like us with Shakespeare," Rickson said. "They've got Chekhov in their souls."

Rickson also believes "Chekhov is best when it's performed from the gut".

To that end, he's encouraged his Royal Court company to soak up Russian culture through literature, art and food (avoiding any sushi bars, of course).

Mackenzie Crook has come straight from the third episode of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films to play Konstantin, Arkadina's son, a troubled soul who wants to write.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the experienced novelist Trigorin, Arkadina's younger son. Ejiofor, who is excused from Russian indoctrination for a couple of days so he can attend Monday night's Golden Globes ceremony in Beverly Hills, where he's nominated in the best comedy actor category for his role in the film Kinky Boots, also woos the ingenue Nina, played by Carey Mulligan.

"Ian keeps calling me the Golden Child because Nina's chasing fame in the pursuit of glory," Ms Mulligan told me.

Rickson is convinced audiences will see parallels between Nina's character and today's obsession with celebrity.

Conversely, however, from Ejiofor's and Crook's points of view, the play is all about another kind of obsession - writing.

Both actors met playwrights to get some idea of the psychological processes a dramatist endures.

And Christopher Hampton, a playwright long associated with the Royal Court, was on hand to explain the background to his adaptation of The Seagull, which begins performances at the Royal Court on January 18.

The wise and brilliant actress Denise Black, who plays Polina, summed up the play succinctly. "Life does hurt," she said, and then laughed. "Hurt and laughter," she added. And that's The Seagull.

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