Eminent doctor in house

The Seagull
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.

Sir Ian McKellen makes his West Yorkshire Playhouse debut as Doctor Dorn in the theatre's first stab at Chekhov.

In the play, a theatrical family gathers at a house in the country. The young Nina, with whom Konstantin, a playwright, is in love, becomes infatuated with a visiting writer, Trigorin. She follows him to Moscow, but he treats her casually, just as he would a seagull. Konstantin kills himself.

McKellen says: "There are so many layers of truth for the actors to delve into. The joy of Chekhov is that the characters do reveal their fears and their hopes, and the audience can pick all that up even though the characters don't necessarily talk about those things. " In rehearsal, the actors have been working towards a sense of the world that Chekhov has given them. Director Jude Kelly insists that Chekhov is not all that naturalistic; he asks for a totally three-dimensional characterisation and that is a challenge.

She says: "All the characters are very ambitious. We sometimes think of Chekhov's characters as being bored and listless and lacking ambition, but these people have huge energy, they are very driven people."

Costume and staging are kept simple, emblematic rather than historically detailed. Audiences will not be asked to think of the historical setting.

Kelly says : "You don't aim for exactness with Chekhov. The audience ought to feel that they're watching a nightly engagement with many different choices. If you looked at any particular five minutes, you should feel that you had a lot of psychological information."

In one scene in rehearsal, when the characters play lotto and chatter, she asked her actors to think of sex as the underlying cause of their anxiety and the next day of death. The purpose was to build up layers of emotion.

Opened yesterday, until December 5. Tickets: 0113 213 7700

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