Though it’s a word that carries some pretty self-important connotations, ‘Resuscitation’ might actually be too modest a name for the Abu Dhabi theatre company behind next week’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. With the city’s theatre scene barely even in existence beyond a few enthusiastic amateur troupes, we can’t help but think that ‘Creation’, ‘Foundation’ or some other, grander synonym might be a better name for native New Yorker Maggie Hannan’s pioneering gang of thespians.
Semantics aside, it’s hard not to be impressed with how much the group has achieved in such a short space of time. Resuscitation’s UAE debut came in July 2009, when an all-female adaptation of Hamlet at The Club treated the city to an unprecedented night of interactive theatre. Now, having announced an open casting call back in February, the group is less than two weeks away from its second encounter with the city’s expectant, paying public.
The timing, it seems, couldn’t be better since, according to Maggie, the city’s interest in theatre has never been greater. ‘I had 35 people turn up to audition for four parts,’ she told us, during a break from rehearsals. ‘My primary goal was to make the project as grassroots as possible, so I’m very pleased that I have two Emirati actors, and two actors of mixed Arab nationality, who were born and raised in Abu Dhabi.’
Indirectly, at least, Maggie’s got her home town to thank for stimulating the capital’s interest in theatrical arts. Of The Seagull’s stars, one is a student of Abu Dhabi’s outpost of the New York Film Academy and another a recent graduate, while New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus in Al Hosn has provided rehearsal space for the group to hone their portrayal of Chekhov’s play. And in choosing to focus on just a single storyline from the more complex narrative of the original, they’ve had their work cut out for them in their thrice weekly sessions.
‘The original Chekhov play was his way of trying to break through the boundaries of what had come before him in melodrama. So none of the decisive action took place on stage, everything was off stage,’ Maggie tells us. ‘I like to make classic texts really modern and current, so people of our generation and time can connect with them, and may even be curious enough to want to read them. So I focus on one particular storyline of the play and just pull out the main characters necessary to tell it.’ These characters are: Irina (a successful actress), Boris (her young lover), Konstantin (an aspiring writer and Irina’s son) and Nina (an aspiring actress). Maggie’s adaptation cuts Chekhov’s four-act original down to a neat and snappy one-hour production, focusing on Konstantin’s frustration over his mother’s reputation and his unrequited infatuation with Nina; ultimately exploring the conundrum of what it means to be an artist in love.
‘It’s very condensed, very fast-paced, a lot of physicality,’ Maggie continues, eager to stress that newcomers needn’t worry about being thrown in at the deep-end. ‘The thing about Chekhov is that he’s the master of subtext, so I use physical theatre and props to make the subtext more prominent. This is Resuscitation’s signature style.’
While it remains to be seen whether the public will warm to Resuscitation’s stripped-down style, Maggie is already planning the group’s next move. ‘I’ve actually already cast the next project,’ she tells us. ‘Because I had so many people turn up to audition for The Seagull, I decided to cast another play as well, which is going to be The Cocktail Party by TS Elliot. I’m working on the script at the moment.’ Could this be the start of a drama scene to be proud of? We can’t wait to find out...