The Octagon Theatre at Bolton Library and Museum; Wednesday 30th October, 2019
We are Seagulls – not “The Seagulls”, just Seagulls, without the word “The”. We are scavengers: we will pick up the scraps of human life and turn them into musical art.
Seagulls by American writer Beth Hyland is a coming-of-age saga that follows four university students who harbour aspirations of fame and stardom. Coming together to start a new band, their hard work sees them rapidly develop into an exciting musical prospect: very quickly they find themselves winning local talent competitions, could they really be on the road to fulfilling their wildest dreams and making it big?
There is no denying that Seagulls is a work of musical theatre, yet it feels different in structure and content and so certainly isn’t a musical in the traditional sense. The intertwining of plot and musicality is pleasingly delicate and smooth, nine songs emerge during the two-hour-long performance yet none of them come across as gratuitous renditions inserted at conveniently opportune points, as most musicals usually do.
Instead the performance flows neatly and smoothly, the powerful driver throughout is the character development that takes place via both conventional acting and also through musical expression.
Con (Matthew Heywood) exudes a sense of expressive authority as the band’s driving force, a seemingly tortured soul who exhibits a huge talent for creativity, a young man on an artistic quest to make the audience feel something.
His girlfriend Nina (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) appears keen to take the limelight, caught up in the band’s early success she senses fortune and glory on the horizon and shows no hesitation in heading straight for it.
Masha (Lauryn Redding) is a moody rock chick who presents an ice-cold countenance which masks a deep emotional secret that cannot remain contained for long. Her boyfriend Simon (Tomi Ogbaro) is the cheery joker of the pack, possibly more suited to being an acting student rather than a music student.
The interaction between the two couples forms the basis of the plot, one which thankfully remains credible and viable throughout. Though mainly driven by humour, there is a darker and more sombre turn taken towards the end, and that mood definition comes out beautifully in the accompanying on-stage instrumental delivery.
The music being performed throughout the show seems to hover around a vaguely distinct classification / genre – the four instruments (violin, keys, bass, lead) generate a wonderfully familiar mood – namely that of slow-paced indie folk ballads. Very specifically, there is a very strong hint of North American indie folk, no doubt seeded by the show’s American author, who also wrote the lyrics and music. Every song seems to be just a drummed percussion away from the very distinctively familiar sounds of the likes of The Barr Brothers, Lord Huron, and The Oh Hellos.
Ultimately, Seagulls is a bit of a cheesy, against-the-odds type of story-telling affair that concerns some kids who dream of making it big with a mainstream crossover. The show is said to be based upon Chekhov’s play The Seagull – several characters take their names from the original play.
But you wouldn’t need to know a single thing about the Chekhov classic in order to enjoy and appreciate this performance, which is more than capable of standing tall on its own merits thanks to the beautifully arranged interweaving of conventional theatre and innovative musical composition and performance.
Photography: The Other Richard
|Visual pleasure||A set made up of a musical stage with instruments and neon lighting everywhere. Looked every so slightly cramped being delivered in the Bolton Library, which is only a temporary venue while the Octagon Theatre undergoes a refurbishment. A real shame as the cast looked as if they needed a bit more space to fully engage with their characters and their stories.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Exceptionally good original music composition and powerful individual and group performances that delivered strong emotional release each time a song was performed.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||A slightly cliched storyline but thankfully it needs no prior knowledge or reference to the original Chekhov work that inspired it. The amalgamation of music with acting is excellent, both components adding the same thing but in different ways.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Four outstanding performances, both in terms of acting and music. Each individual character seemed to develop so much during the show, genuinely creating the feeling that we were getting to know each person properly.||5|
|Overall impact||An uplifting story of triumph and tragedy with a comforting and pleasing end, all delivered through high quality acting and musical performance.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|