Writers: Barb Jungr and Mike Lindup
Director: Peter Glanville
Soho conjures up all kinds of magical associations for those who have lived or worked in the area for a long time, so it is no wonder that writer and composer team Barb Jungr and Mike Lindup have found inspiration in its evocative streets and the people they have met along the way. Soho Songs: A New Song Cycle is exactly that, a first performance of a work-in-progress, a chance to test ten songs on an audience at the Crazy Coqs on the edge of this beloved district.
Set in and around a single pub, the Shangri-La, this song cycle begins at dawn and takes in the very different activities, personalities and expectations that make every day in Soho slightly different. Partly nostalgic for a bygone era and nervous of development that will erode the character of the area, each of the ten songs belongs to a different protagonist in this kaleidoscopic musical.
Jungr and Lindup have composed a piece that speaks to the very different music that Soho has to offer but blended seamlessly into a consistent show. There are musical theatre references, nodding to the strip of venues along Shaftesbury Avenue with one particular number calling on Sondheim’s notable style to explore lost love sung by a sad punter late at night who knows the ‘past is out of reach’. Similarly, the opener Soho by Day The Homeless Song begins with a sunrise musical number as the homeless community watch the comings and goings.
True to Jungr’s own style, which she has joked about in previous shows, much of Soho Songs: A New Song Cycle is pretty melancholy, from the trafficked sex workers, the hidden girls lamenting for ‘where once we were’ to the resilient landlady who claims she has known ‘every kind of blue’, there is something wistful about some of these experiences. A chance to reflect on all the complex things Soho is and has been that draw on the bluesy jazz for which the area is renowned.
But there are upbeat numbers too including a fabulous disco piece entitled Nice Girls Shouldn’t Go to Soho that has some great Abba-like harmonies, while comic songs such as the funky Bouncer Man and the spoken word Estate Agent song add a breadth to this song cycle, emphasising not just the ever-changing face of Soho itself but the melting pot of people from all kinds of places that make it so appealing.
There is a little dialogue between characters to introduce the songs, like comments from strangers passing by which offer some context, but the show could think more broadly about its perspectives. Women are largely unhappy in this show, trapped in lives they didn’t want or are apprehensive about potential violence, and while Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho has attempted to shatter the image of cosy danger, it would be nice to hear from successful, powerful women – the ballsy landladies, starlets and renowned drinkers – who have contributed to its reputation.
Likewise, the show follows a pattern of solos or same sex duets, as yet there are no mixed numbers aside from the finale Dreaming in Soho for all four performers. As this show expands – and it surely will – there is an opportunity to create dialogue within the songs for male and female voices that would add a different texture in places.
Running at just 50-minutes, and performed by Lucinda Lawrence, Robbie Noonan, Nate Rogers and Kat Johns-Burke, there is much to admire in what could be just the first act of Soho Songs: A New Song Cycle. With a few more numbers Jungr and Lindup’s plan to stage a site-specific production can only add to the allure of this endlessly fascinating place.
Reviewed on 21 June 2022