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  • [Song of the Seagull] by [Linnie Reedman]
    by Cornelia at 14:03 on 18 March 2012
    'Song of the Seagull' is an atmospheric new play at the Menier Gallery. Adapted and directed by Linnie Reedman, it depicts an episode in 1886, when Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and five other young artists spent a country vacation near the Volga. Surrounded by pastoral beauty and away from city temptations, they pursued creative activities and experienced the frictions of living together in somewhat primitive conditions. Chekhov based much of his subsequent writing on the experience, most notably his first major play 'The Seagull', written in 1895.

    Anton, rarely seen without notebook and quill, is the most observant member of the volatile group, although already distracted from his medical studies by some early writing success. His friend Vasily, a composer working as a dance-band musician, drinks too much, while landscape painter and womaniser Zac moodily doubts his own gifts. Melancholy would-be actress Vera is haunted by a tragic past: ‘I’m in mourning for my life’. Her gloomy outlook contrasts with down-to-earth gypsy violinist Lydia and radiant, newly-married Nina. Nina, an amateur sketcher, is initially keen to join the proposed ‘riotous visit’, even if it means leaving husband Osip to continue his work as a doctor in the city. Dazzled at first by the group’s apparent freedom, she’s soon overcome by the realities of the damp riverside location, including a diet high in cabbage soup and cockroaches swarming under the table. She’s an easy target for the predatory Zac.

    The seduction of Nina and its consequences is the focus of the plot but interest centres round discussions on the role of artists in a bourgeois social milieu. The betrayal of friends by using them as subjects for art recurs as a theme; symbolic objects, particularly that of the seagull, add to the dramatic tension.

    Belle Mundi’s superb design impresses but doesn’t detract from the action. Some over-running on the opening night was perhaps caused by the difficulty of conveying the languor of Chekhov’s characters and settings.

    The charismatic players are convincing, particularly Steven Clarke in the lead role as the writer who keeps his head in the emotional maelstrom surrounding him and soulful Nicholas Gauci as the betrayed spouse whose culinary skills are unappreciated. Joe Evans’ evocative music and lyrics conveyed the yearning sadness of Chekhov’s major dramas, notably The Cherry Orchard, referenced in Linnie Reedman’s witty script.

    Lindsay Crow’s lovely soprano voice in the role of Nina and Persia Lawson’s vibrancy as Vera bring touching sincerity to the lyrics, while Claire-Monique Martin, as Lydia, provides violin and viola accompaniment to spontaneous song-and-dance scenes. These are remarkably choreographed in the tiny space by Alyssa Noble.

    The shadowy Menier Gallery, with its iron pillars, against which the protagonists occasionally drape themselves, provides an excellent setting. Its current Water from the Moon exhibition, exploring themes of death, loss and memory perfectly complements this multi-layered depiction of artists at odds with society and themselves.

    Runs to Saturday 31st March