Friday, December 02, 2005

Moonlit lake

There is a lot to say about the history of landscape in theatrical scenery, especially the way it has influenced painting. Examples would include the stage-like compositions of classical landscape painters like Nicolas Poussin, the use of theatrical models by Thomas Gainsborough, the early work of David Roberts as a scene painter...

One thing that struck me recently reading Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull was how interesting it would be to collect together the various ways set designers have interpreted a landscape in the play: the lakeside setting of Kostya Treplyov’s ‘decadent drama’. (One could do this for a scene in any play that has been performed repeatedly – I pick this because Chekhov uses an interesting symbolic landscape). At the start of The Seagull, the lake is blocked by a stage, but it is revealed when the play-within-the-play commences, with the moon on the horizon and Treplyov’s actor, Nina Zarechnaya, sitting on a white rock. The whole thing reads like an Edvard Munch painting.

Some outdoor versions of The Seagull have used real lakes. In the theatre there must be many approaches to this landscape, partly depending on the director’s view of Treplyov and the comedy of this particular scene. However, a search on the internet yields almost no production stills, so this interesting survey of theatrical recreations of a writer’s lake must remain imaginary for the time being.

Postscript June 2015
I was reminded of this post seeing that the play is currently being staged at Regent's Park's Open Air Theatre. 'In the first half, John Bausor’s scenery builds on the stage’s natural backdrop of trees and foliage to create an Arcadian vision befitting both the setting of rural Russia and Konstantin’s own vision for theatre. This contrasts with the set for the final acts whose prosaic wooden floorboards proclaim the total sterility of society' (The Londonist).  But what of the lake?  There is no actual lake to be utilised, but reading the reviews I see that there was an artificial one on stage and, in a departure from Chekhov, at one point some servants go skinny dipping in it.

On the subject of landscape and theatre design, I've written more recently about two early examples of environmental scenography: the open-air Theatre of the People in France and the performances of the Ben Greet Players in Britain and America.

No comments: