A Song of Songs – Park Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Book, Music, Lyrics and Director: Ofra Daniel

Emotional adultery and a lot of fish, Ofra Daniel’s musical A Song of Songs at the Park Theatre struggles for coherence in a conceptual piece based on the biblical story of a woman cast out of Jerusalem society which attempts to infuse a Middle Eastern story with Flamenco influences and musical theatre storytelling. Like lead character Tirzah’s central relationship, this marriage is not a happy one as styles clash and the narrative becomes bogged down by its notably over-produced theatrical dressing.

The romantic Tirzah is forced to marry a local man she doesn’t love and endures a frustrated life as the wife of a fisherman. 10 years on, she receives a mysterious letter from a secret admirer and Tirzah commits to him, body, mind and soul, dreaming away the hours and transforming herself from dowdy housewife to sultry temptress. But will they ever meet?

Daniel’s musical – of which she is the writer, composer, lyricist, director and lead performer – is essentially a one-woman show in every respect as Tirzah becomes the narrator of her own story meaning other characters, dancers and musicians are thrown into shadow. The themes are clear enough about the perils of unrequited love and the danger of fantasy projection based on little actual substance, but the intended audience response is unclear; Tirzah is deeply unsympathetic and earnest in her endless professions of love, her arrogance and obsession that makes it difficult to connect to her plight. This is compounded by the lack of equivalent depth in any other character, husband, idealised lover or townswomen, to give Tirzah’s passionate extremes credible context or even empathy.

Part of the problem is the clash of ideas and devices that place the story in a flamenco-inspired Jerusalem with no clear purpose other than visual design and musical accents, meaning there are skirts that can swish and swirl to make nice stage pictures, but the sometimes Jewish, sometimes English, sometimes Spanish influences are fuzzy and make little sense in practice.

Likewise, the inclusion of dance and song rarely serves the story, only extend it with several of the musical numbers relying on two of three sentences repeated over and over for several minutes until the song ends – the advertised running time of two hours including interval becomes two hours 20 minutes as a result. The repetitive songs and movement fail to provide either the emotional connection or the narrative propulsion that should be their purpose, particularly with unnecessary time given over to songs about fish (The Fish Song) and wind (The North Wind) or reiterating parts of the book.

The inspiration for A Song of Songs is poetry and while Daniel’s lead aches, yearns and writhes for her lover, the sentiment, intensity and the simplicity of communicating via the language of verse is entirely lost in this current iteration. Giving Tirzah agency to tell her own story and to celebrate the charged nature of her physical experience is absolutely right but focusing more on the beauty of the exchange between the lovers would give this piece a tighter shape and the emotional gravity it seeks.

Runs until 31 May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Heading for divorce

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. Completely wrong review , the show was captivating and eye opening , Daniel has a very confident character who is it meant to be liked and be the natural protagonist : the music and dancing was beautifully shown truly a masterpiece of Spanish and Arabian influence

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