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Street Songs (Susan Elkin reviews)

Street Songs

By Brett Snelgrove

Directed by Lawrence Carmichael

Golden Goose Theatre, Camberwell

Star rating: 3

Jamie (Ollie West)  is grieving for his father who has recently died of cancer. So he takes his guitar on to the streets and attempts to busk, mostly using the song sets his father once performed. He isn’t terribly successful and it doesn’t help when Charlie (Evie Joy Wright) turns up and assertively accuses him of encroaching on her pitch. Gradually, and stormily, they start working together and he learns a lot about himself from her forthright advice and example. The grief in this show is very raw and, informed I’m sure, by the playwright’s own experience: Snelgrove’s father died in 2019. At times it’s tender almost to the point of self-indulgence.

Both cast members are accomplished actor musos. West plays – really plays – the guitar in a wide range of keys and styles and his singing is interesting. There are no radio mics in this show so we hear his voice as it is and he can do everything from gentle lyricism to shouty full belt.

Wright is a lively percussionist. All the instruments are improvised apart from a single cymbal so she plays buckets and other street litter mostly using brushes at high speed. She sings well too. Although the narrative of the play sometimes requires them to be at odds, there is a real musical rapport between the two of them as they gradually move from the older songs Jamie thinks he wants to do to the remix numbers that Charlie insists are what modern listeners want. For example, in The Sound of Silence, she winds him up from adagio all the way to presto via andante, moderato and allegro. The song is almost unrecognisable at presto but it certainly freshens it.

The play explores the nature of busking as a “job” and stresses that as a performance genre it has to be taken as seriously as any other if it is to have any chance of success. There’s information here too. Who knew that busking in the UK began with Gypsies in the eighteenth century?

It’s a play with heart and it showcases the talents of two accomplished young actors but the story telling doesn’t always cohere. We get a lot of Jamie confiding in the audience but I would have liked to have known much more about Charlie too. There’s also some rather awkward audience participation which doesn’t add a lot – especially as there were only 18 people in the audience at the performance I saw.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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