Thomas Kilroy - Revisiting The Seagull

A note from playwright Thomas Kilroy on The Seagull, commissioned for Druid's 2021 production of the play.

This version was first performed forty years ago at the Royal Court Theatre in London. There have been other productions since then but this one by Druid is special not least because of the extraordinary director Garry Hynes. That first production was a very English event with some brilliant English actors, including Alan Rickman, so then this one is a kind of response to it, a bringing of the play home to the West of Ireland and Coole Park. Certainly I had this setting in my mind when I made this adaptation. Coole was one of the models for the house in the play; Moore Hall in County Mayo, the home of George Moore, was another.

It was Max Stafford-Clark, the artistic director of the Royal Court, who suggested that I might adapt The Seagull to an Irish setting. He has a passionate interest in Irish history and theatre. Indeed, I had already worked with him on my play Tea and Sex and Shakespeare at the Abbey, some time before this, with Donal McCann. Max’s suggestion that the new version be set in a West of Ireland ‘Big House’ had a curious source. His father was a distinguished Freudian psychiatrist who was advisor on the John Huston film, Freud. So, when Max was a student at Trinity in Dublin, Huston invited him down to St. Cleran’s in County Galway where the film director was living the life of a country squire. Max loved it. He had the Anglo-Irish gentry in mind when he read his Chekhov. It just so happened that I had the same fascination myself.

I have been asked more than once to adapt other plays of Chekhov and I’ve had to say no, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find a personal route into the material, comparable to my fascination with the Anglo-Irish and I had exhausted this with The Seagull. My fascination was two-fold, partly my sense of Irish history but also my reading of AngloIrish literature, writers like Yeats and Synge, Shaw and Wilde. There were also the Anglo-Irish novels of the nineteenth century, particularly one novel that lies behind this adaptation, George Moore’s A Drama in Muslin. This book gives a vivid picture of life in the Anglo-Irish ‘Big House’ in the West of Ireland during the period in which the plays of Chekhov are set. It catches the confusion of the household on the eve of revolution, the constant traffic, the mixing of people from different backgrounds, the complex relationship between the provincial, rural household and the distant, big city, with its deceptive promise of escape.

Revisiting the play now has had a curious effect as I now see a change in the main thrust of the play. Instead of the centrality of the Anglo-Irish, I now see the powerful theme of love. Everyone seems to be in love but this is a love that only releases destruction. If this is the result of love, can you really call it love?

Thomas Kilroy
July 2021