A Song Cycle for Soho
Book by Andrew Brinded
I would “whoop” were I a whooping type of person: in part to express my joy at this little gem of a show and in part to grab attention because it ends all too soon this Saturday.
Beginning with Andrew Brinded’s book (a debut work, amazingly) themes on aspects of Soho life (the quirky over the mundane) were sent to a range of songwriters and composers—some established, some new—and the result is A Song Cycle for Soho, supported by Mercury Musical Developments and Soho Theatre and directed by Simon Greiff.
This collaboration has produced songs that blend seamlessly to form a coherent whole in a narrative, voiced, coloured and vivified by four established West End musical theatre performers of equally strong calibre whose voices, singly and together, produce a delicious mélange of light and shade: Michael Cantwell, James Gillen, Niamh Perry and—thrillingly—Claire Moore from the award winning London Road, a production to be reprised at the National Theatre this summer.
The theme, then, is the Soho that is loved, sometimes abhorred, but never ignored. Lyrics are a revelation—witty, clever, the opposite of dumbed-down, and evocative of Soho life in all its celebratory, sad, and seedy glory.
In just 75 minutes with seventeen songs largely sung-through, we have solos, duets, and ensemble pieces (accompanied by musical director Sarah Travis on piano and John Gregson on guitar) that express how it feels to live, love, lose, regret, have sex (good and bad), be young and get old in a small part of a big city.
The rapturous “Saturday Night in” bookends proceedings and it’s difficult otherwise to select highlights but “It’s What He Would Have Wanted” is a pleasingly dark take on last requests; and Claire Moore’s “Self Respect” is a belter of a number sung with power, guts and panache.
The venue fits the bill perfectly—a small downstairs bar seating about 100 that would be smoky were smoking allowed. Local references aside, you don’t have to be a Soho-ite—or even a Londoner—to love it: love it, you will.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler