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Review: THE SONG PROJECT, Royal Court

Dutch singer Wende leads this musical theatre-concert hybrid

Review: THE SONG PROJECT, Royal Court Review: THE SONG PROJECT, Royal Court

The Royal Court hosts something different from their usual line-up with this musical theatre/cabaret/concert hybrid titled The Song Project, led by celebrated Dutch singer Wende.

It's a co-production with Stichting WENDE, conceived by a group of artists including Royal Court associate designer Chloe Lamford, composer Isobel Waller-Bridge, choreographer Imogen Knight and with ideas suggested by playwrights E.V. Crowe, Sabrina Mahfouz, Somalia Nonyé Seaton, Stef Smith and Debris Stevenson.

Wende, backed by her band of multi-skilled musicians, Nils Davidse, Louise Anna Duggan, and Midori Jaeger, tells deeply personal yet universally relatable stories through song. Particularly poignant is "Mother F--cker" where the audience is encouraged to - and willingly - joins in the chorus singing: "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".

In musical theatre terms this show would be called sung-through, yet The Song Project feels more like a concert - a series of songs tied together by an overarching theme that explores the emotional complexities of life. Courageous concepts are handled with warmth and sophistication, including birth, death, anger, friendship, motherhood, love, loss and ageing. And although there is not one clear storyline with central characters, there is still plenty of light and shade, sadness and laughter, and the audience is taken on a journey. Essentially The Song Project feels like a one-woman musical with pop music. It's Fleabag meets Lady Gaga with a sprinkle of Tim Minchin.

At the beginning of the show, Wende explains that The Song Project began as a bold experiment bringing together a group of artists and playwrights to co-create in a new way, starting with the idea that some things can only be sung. This is intriguing to hear as it feels like a revolutionary process and yet the final product is hardly avant-garde. This storytelling style of songwriting can be found in the music of a number of popular artists, from Taylor Swift to Queen.

What is special though is Wende herself, with her commanding stage presence, her confidence, warmth, connection with the music and audience, and her powerful vocals. No wonder she's one of Netherlands' most successful artists. If anyone in the audience was not a fan before, they certainly will be stalking her online after watching The Song Project. Ninety minutes of Wende is not nearly enough. She brings each word to life and gives repeated phrases of the chorus new meaning every time.

In terms of the design, the staging is more like an orchestra pit stuffed with the most beautiful instruments and high-tech equipment. Amongst this is an array of plants, which is a nice aesthetic and creates a wild and animalistic vibe. The four musicians dress in what appears to be their own outfits - brightly coloured and modern. The lighting is simple too, supporting the idea that The Song Project is more a concert than a theatrical experience.

Although this is a limited run, The Song Project will be coming back to the Royal Court in June 2022, to the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs (as it was meant to be for this run, too, before a flood caused damage to the auditorium). You won't experience a life-changing story, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable, high-quality piece of art with toe-tapping tunes led by extraordinary talent. A great night out.

The Song Project plays at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs until 28 August

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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