INSIGHT with Matthew Tennyson
By Open Air Theatre
Matthew Tennyson plays Konstantin in The Seagull. He is 27 and grew up in London with his mum, a nurse, and dad, a physics lecturer (and he’s the great, great, great grandson of Alfred, Lord Tennyson!). In 2012 Matthew won the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Newcomer for Making Noise Quietly at the Donmar.
When did you first discover your love of theatre?
I used to go to the theatre a lot with my granddad. I just sort of decided that I wanted to be an actor; it was a natural progression and instinctive. I sort of knew that I would always be an actor, I don’t know why, it was always in the back of my mind.
Tell us about the character of Konstantin, and what you are enjoying about playing him.
Konstantin is a young avant-garde writer whose work is ridiculed by his mother, a famous actress. It’s a pretty exhausting role; he’s quite highly strung and quite an intense person to get inside of his head. He never lets up really, he’s relentless.
What are you most looking forward to about performing The Seagull at the Open Air Theatre?
I think it will be really exciting here; Konstantin, at the start of the play, has an idea of what theatre should be like, and he talks about artifice and elemental natural things – the first half of the play is set outside so, from that perspective, doing it here makes sense. It’s such a chamber piece really, but putting it in this huge space means that you have to stretch it out, pull it apart – it kind of makes it crueller and makes the character’s needs more intense, and bigger. You’ve got to reach someone across this huge space and tell them you love them. It’s a challenge but it brings something new and exciting.
2015 marks the 120th anniversary of The Seagull, and in recognition of this, we have commissioned a new adaptation of Chekhov’s seminal play from award-winning writer Torben Betts. We continue our conversation with Matthew Tennyson about the production.
What can we expect from Torben Betts’ new adaptation of The Seagull?
Torben has amped up the fact that these characters never listen to each other. Director Matthew (Dunster) was saying that, in the original, there were lots of monologues and long stretches of people talking, but in Torben’s version he’s kind of chopped it up. He’s got all of these interjections from other characters throughout so, as an actor, and as Konstantin, you are constantly tuning in and out of what they are saying, and latching on to some things – and ignoring others. It feels very realistic because that is how people listen; they only pick up on some things. It’s so tricky to act that; you have to listen three times as hard to act ‘not listening’ to someone, and to not miss your cue either.
What did you know of the world of Chekhov before you started this process, and what have you discovered since starting rehearsals?
I knew he was this great naturalist, and wrote plays of, sort of, elegiac melancholy – but I realise more and more what a perceptive, heartfelt observer of human nature he is, and so funny. The play swings from the tragic to the ridiculous in almost the same beat. It’s really funny and intensely sad.
There is so much in The Seagull about art versus reality. I was watching Peter Pan and thinking about our set in that space where we’ve got this Astroturf, fake grass that we’ve got next to real grass, and it just says something about problems with reality, acting, and art – holding a mirror up to nature, which is something I think Chekhov wanted to do.
We are delighted to announce that we have extended our BREEZE scheme across all performances of The Seagull. For an annual membership fee of £10, those aged 18-25 can get tickets for just £10. In the final instalment of our chat with Matthew Tennyson, he tells us why schemes such as this are so important.
Did you take advantage of ticketing schemes for young people?
I absolutely did use them. As an actor, one of the most important things about learning how to act is watching other people do it. Without schemes like this I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to the theatre. I think it’s vital.
And in the context of our production of The Seagull?
I think it’s really exciting to have young people come to see this play, and think that many might not have seen it before. And with £10 BREEZE tickets, I would urge everyone to come and give it a go – a night out at the Open Air Theatre is brilliant – they even have draft beer now too!
In a sentence, why should people come to see The Seagull?
I think it is going to be very funny and unexpected, and hopefully feel current and relevant because these characters feel so recognisable.
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