The Song Project – Royal Court Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writers: E.V. Crowe, Sabrina Mahfouz, Somalia Nonyé Seaton, Stef Smith, and Debris Stevenson

Composers: Wende and Isobel Waller-Bridge

Dutch singer and composer Wende is mesmerizing in this exhilarating new show created for her fabulous voice and warm stage presence. The freshness of both her performance and the powerful sense of creative collaboration make The Song Project something truly magical. It began when the Royal Court gave six playwrights the brief “If you didn’t have a play, what would you write?” The resulting lyrics about intense moments of human experiences were then workshopped with the Project’s creative team.

Lyrics about loneliness, insecurity and fury might seem bleak on the page, but Wende and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s musical collaboration brings out the empowering joy of articulating dark emotions. Rawness and beauty coincide, the melodies underscored by the irresistible beats of percussionist Louise Anna Duggan who, with Nils Davidse (keyboards) and Midori Jaeger (cello), create a captivating sound world.

An overarching theme begins to emerge. The early songs are the darkest, hovering between self-destruction and survival like Sacrifice and Debris Stevenson’s soulful Lighthouses. But witty defiance keeps erupting and disrupting. E.V. Crowe’s Lonely Bitch (“I’ve come off social media/ No one noticed that I’d gone”), is less a lament than a celebration, her Mother Fucker with its chorus, “I’m not a good mother/ I’m not a bad mother/I’m a good enough mother/ And that’s good enough for me”, becomes a joyous anthem. Stevenson’s Horror Story (“Let’s awaken the stakes till we feel together”) and Somalia Nonyé Seaton’s Oh Yes (“Watch me come/ Watch me come/ Watch me come undone”) tilt between the dark and light of sex’s equivocal promise. There is a further, more frightening dive into anger with Good Women and The Curse (Sabrina Mahfouz) and Glory (Stevenson). There follows catharsis, first with Crowe’s poignant, unaccompanied Promise (“Goodbye to that story/ It was never mine to tell”) and then her Unlove Song, sung in breathtaking accapella.

The mood changes again as a new energy is released in lyrics by Nonyé Seaton (Where You Gonna Go? and Beast Undone). When in the final song, Mahfouz’s powerful Prayer, Wende uncovers the theatre’s windows, she reveals the plane trees of Sloane Square made newly magical, as she sings “It’s not light yet, but it’s getting there”. In an encore we are invited to join in the chorus of Stef Smith’s joyful Let It Be.

The Song Project emerges as a brilliant song cycle with something of the darkness of the wanderer’s journey of Schubert’s Winterreise and something else altogether new and exhilarating besides. A modern classic.

Runs until 28 August 2021, and returns in June 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Exhilarating, magical music

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The Reviews Hub - London

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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