Writer: Kate Dimbleby
Director: Katy Carmichael
Reviewer: Becca Savory Fuller
Cabaret singer Kate Dimbleby is on a quest to find her voice. After many years making work about other people’s stories and voices, Songbirds is a pared-back solo show exploring Dimbleby’s own story, using (mainly) the power of her own voice.
With a loop pedal, microphone and visual projections, Dimbleby weaves a story of artistic crisis, quest and discovery. She layers voice, song, and percussive sound to create each musical segment of the show, and weaves these song-moments with fragments of her tale. A few objects on stage help to bring the past into the present of the show; the vintage radio recalling her the voice of her grandfather, BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby; the glamorous evening gown, worn to perform at the Royal Festival Hall.
Dimbleby’s style is gloriously warm-hearted and genuine. Within minutes she makes us feel as if we just sat down in her living room. She giggles, she laughs, she kicks off her shoes – once they’ve served their purpose, creating percussion for one of the opening pieces. Her songs are heart-felt and draw us in. Before long, with Kate’s encouragement, the whole audience are humming, then tapping, then singing along.
Her story takes us on a journey through the crisis point in her career, to retreat, reflection, and a new resolve to listen closer. She explores Bristol, recording sounds of the streets and people she meets. The voices of these other ‘songbirds’ are woven into the soundscape of her own story. She joins Bobby McFarrin for an intensive workshop in New York, and his improvisatory style has clearly influenced her approach to making the album and show.
The work is deeply personal to Dimbleby’s own career and questions as an artist, and this is also the challenge for Songbirds as a show. Can her story speak to something larger than her own life experience? In the opening section she describes the performance as a “celebration of the human voice,” but the work stays closer to the personal than the universal.
Songbirds is an hour-long performance followed by a much shorter, informal second half with a guest musician. This structure adds to the sense that the show blurs performance genres, between theatre, cabaret and a gig. Dimbleby’s warm personality continues to shine through in the second half, but the songs are more unrehearsed and improvised than in the first hour. It’s less theatre, more gig – but we leave with hearts and voices singing. In a gentle way, perhaps Songbirds does celebrate the human voice. By drawing our own voices into the performance, Dimbleby connects her story to ours.
Reviewed on 30 April 2017 | Contributed