Lily Cole stars as Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull
Nina is a character propelled by an overwhelming passion for fame; an aspiring actress, willing to stomp on any other character to achieve her goal, if only for a taste of celebrity lifestyle. Controversy has been a-stir in Cambridge, mounting as time wanes before the opening performance; how can Lily Cole, A-list of all celebrities, give a convincing performance as a character who has never tasted glamorous lifestyle? A play which has been referred to in and around Cambridge for weeks as ‘The Seacole’ was always tipped to be one to see – even if it is only to catch a glimpse of Lily Cole’s new hair colour…
As the curtain was raised at the ADC Theatre, an unutterable wave of excitement silenced the audience, as they awaited with eager anticipation. Richard Keith’s direction, and Simon Haines’ modernisation of Chekhov’s original script, however, seemed to bode more effectively with the audience than any production of the original would have done. Haines’ ingenious addition of the inter-play (written by the character Constantin (Joey Batey), and performed by the character Nina (Lily Cole)) was when the audience first began to see the true ability and talent of both respective actors. Cole attacks the character of Nina, acting in this incomprehensible play, with vigour; she induces tears of laughter in the audience as she alternates between passionate shrieks and vacuous murmurs, coaxed from the side by Constantin (Batey), and watched by all the other characters, who act their “bemused” roles particularly well. It is during this scene that Victoria Ball as Arkadina asserts her talented presence, as the comic heights continue to ascend, with Ball collapsing in a fake choking fit and the other characters running to her assistance, bringing Constantin’s play to an abrupt end.
Whilst Chekhov describes his own play ‘a Comedy’, the roles of Constantin and Nina require constant alternation between the comic, the tragic, and the tragicomic, and I’m pleased to say that Batey and Cole carried all aspects of their characters off with such competence that they created a chemistry the audience could not be weaned from. The tragic aspects of this stage-relationship culminated in the final act, during which Constantin and Nina are both consumed by unrequited love and unsuccessful ambition; this time when Cole shrieks with passion, it is for real, and the audience feels the tragedy of every word. Her lines “I love him, I love him passionately!” and “I’m a seagull!… I’m an actress…” are attacked with such a combination of emotion and lunacy as to send shivers up the spines of the audience. Her departure, shortly followed by Constantin’s suicide, is when the play reaches its tragic height; we realise the play has built to this, and as Arkadina (Ball) wrestles with Trigorin (Haines) at the moment she realises her son has shot himself, the audience are overcome with both genuine grief, and genuine admiration for the acting talent of this cast. When each character demonstrated not only competence, but comfort, in their comic roles earlier in the play, one could never have imagined that they could each perform so movingly as well.
So, it’s true. Lily Cole can act. And some of the other actors were bloody good too – Joey Batey and Victoria Ball certainly being ones to look for in the future. The audience no doubt left with the impression that the controversy surrounding the casting scandal was no longer of any importance; whether thankfully, or disappointingly, Lily Cole can act, and she can do it admirably.