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15% of The Seagull

Originally posted at BroadwayBaby.com


15% of The Seagull is a playful and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the theatrical process. We are shown a number of eccentric characters in interactions depicting their reasons for dropping out of a production of Chekhov's The Seagull. While these sketches are hilarious and had us all cackling within the first few minutes of the show, the context was unclear and I was wondering how this was linked to an adaptation of The Seagull. This was soon made clear when the crazy characters were dropped and we found two actresses in their rehearsal room upon realising everyone else in the cast had dropped out and they were the only two left. Rather than abandon ship the two actresses aim to adapt the play with just the two of them.

What follows is an episodic and hilarious re-enactment of the company's real life struggle to perform theatre with a cast of two. Knowledge of the original play is required to engage with all of the jokes and references. It also helped being familiar with the process of analysing a play, warming up and acting 'techniques'. Being an actor is a very serious business – until an objective outside eye enters and you realise how ridiculous the whole fa├žade is. It was this ability to mock themselves and their practice which made this such a joy to watch.

Even without knowledge of theatre practice, this was so well written and acted that it would thrill any audience. The comic timing was impeccable and the two actresses playing versions of themselves bounced off each other beautifully. Liberty Martin plays the enthusiastic but slightly egocentric theatre practitioner with an over the top approach to the role of Nina. Her 'serious' approach to the work to the point of being ridiculous is hilarious, especially in contrast to the comically underplayed approach of the other actress. Cheryl Mayer is a down to earth but slightly dim Northern actress, describing the play as 'dead good'. We warm to the character's commitment, trying her best to source props for the production, to speak Russian and crucially to play all of The Seagull's supporting roles. She has a heart of gold and we later learn some incredible and subtle acting skills as she touchingly plays out one of Nina's powerful and emotional scenes.

The portrayal of the whole process involved the actors playing, and quickly switching between, a multitude of characters. They would don a new costume piece or move across the stage and with characterisation skills in place we immediately believed the character and went with the transitions. There was no attempt to disguise the transformation process, swiftly and smoothly taking a new wig from a bag next to them so this became an exciting part of the show in itself.

This show exceeded my expectations and is one of the reasons I love Fringe theatre. The audience were cracking up throughout, with comedy arising from both subtle and ridiculous situations. 15% of The Seagull has been performed since 2009, and it is evident that it has become well tuned. I hope that the actresses continue to work on the production, as there is still some room left for improvement. Some of the early sketches fell a little flat with a few cheap jokes. Because the rest of the production was so strong, these moments were noticeable. Maybe it was the juxtaposition creating fictional humourous situations while sticking to the truth of how these events came to pass. Still, I left the auditorium feeling good. I’d spent an hour laughing but also Mayer and Martin open up the possibilities of theatre by showing how much can be achieved with just two actresses, a few silly props and a very clever script. Through these crucial ingredients an hour of exciting theatre was created that I would happily sit through again.

Marlborough Theatre. 7th - 8th May 20:30 - 21:30. Tickets £8.50 Concessions £6.50 PG – Children (16 and under) must be accompanied by an adult

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