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BWW Reviews: THE SONG OF THE SEAGULL, The Menier Gallery, March 17 2012

Like Howard Brenton's recently revived Bloody Poetry, The Song of the Seagull follows sensitive artists on a trip to the country; as in Bloody Poetry, they banter and bicker, fall in and out of love and, ultimately, inevitably, it ends with regrets, sorrow and death. Bourgeois Russians may not be so different to bourgeois English after all.

The Song of the Seagull, Linnie Reedman's beautifully staged, site-specific play with songs (at the Menier Gallery until 31 March), follows medical student and rising star of Russian literature Anton Chekhov to a summer sojourn on the Volga. Also along for the trip are Chekhov's great friend, landscape painter Isaac Levitan, recently married society hostess Sophia Kushinikov, newly single aspirant actress Vera Kommisarevskaya and boozy but talented musician Vasily Kalinnikov. Left at home with his medical research is Sophia's husband, Osip, who cannot understand his wife's fascination with the frivolity of the arty set and is treated with disdain by them in return - a disdain that eventually infects his wife.

Based on real events (maybe because it's based on real events), the play fails to build dramatic tension into the ebb and flow of the characters' relationships. Womanising Isaac breaks hearts; scheming Vera plays the long game and wins; Sophia realises too late that boredom is a state of mind, not a place or a lover; Anton observes and transforms suffering into art and pays for his passivity; and Osip turns his anger inwards. With recognisable types doing what we expect, the play feels like a familiar journey to a familiar destination.

Notwithstanding this element of predictability, there are some fine performances from the ensemble cast, with Persia Lawson's knowing and sexy Vera and Nicholas Gauci's earnest, cuckolded Osip the standouts. Joe Evans' songs integrate well with the action and there are some fine voices on show, especially the soprano of Lindsey Crow (above). And it's simply a delight to hear music played live - Claire-Monique Martin's violin is an eerie presence on and off stage, disorienting us as to reflect the confusion of Sophia in particular.

There's ambition, skill and commitment in this production - but whether there's enough actual drama to sustain two hours of action is moot.       

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