Theatre review: Song of the Seagull – The Menier Gallery – 15th - 31st March

Song of the Seagull 

Last night saw the world premiere for musical drama Song of the Seagull. Inspired by the young Anton Chekhov and his play The Seagull, this new drama is set in the late eighteenth Century and follows real events and the lives of real historical characters. While the work is fictional, those with an interest in Chekhov will no doubt pick up on the references to his life as he tries to balance his work in the medical profession with his passion for being a writer. 

That said, Chekhov does not seem to be the central focal point of this play. Instead it focuses on the young and impressionable Nina, who while a passionate painter with a certain taste for celebrity, decides to marry a doctor. This sets up an interesting divide, as the arts and science clash seeing her doctor husband Osip desperately vying for attention from his wife against her bohemian artist friends. It also perhaps highlights Chekhov’s own struggle to encompass both the arts and science in regards to his own career(s). 

It makes for an interesting evening, and although some first night nerves seemed present, the young actors really emerged themselves in their roles. Steven Clarke gives a particularly sensitive and commendable performance as the young Anton Chekhov. So too, does Persia Lawson shine as the dark and mysterious Vera Kommisarevskaya. Lindsey Crow plays a sweet, naïve Nina – however I found the character to be somewhat irritating in her role as the passive tragic heroine, but not to the fault of the actress. 

The production is set to original music (by composer Joe Evans) meaning that all characters at some point sing, with some even playing a variety of musical instruments. They are clearly talented musicians, as well as competent actors – although stronger when singing as a chorus rather than individuals. The music is haunting, hailing influences from composer Vasily Kalinnikov. There is also a Russian folk influence in the themes, and I felt at times there might be a nod to the Romanian Doina and bohemian gypsy culture, that particularly suited Persia Lawson’s deep, husky voice. 

Further texture is added to this performance in its setting. The Gallery doubles up as a perfect backdrop for the drama, and is a clever way of blending a number of different arts into one production. The gallery is currently hosting an event titled Water From The Moon. The paintings alone are breathtaking but I really felt they added another dimension to the performance. 

The play overran quite a bit in time (but again I expect that to quicken as the actors settle into their roles), and the second half certainly dragged more than the first. That said, it makes for a pleasant evening and while I’m sure the hidden references and theme of late eighteenth century Russia will be somewhat of a specialist attraction, it is certainly an interesting production that I’m pleased to have seen.