The Song Project
Co-created by Chloe Lamford, Wende, Isobel Waller-Bridge & Imogen Knight, words by E V Crowe, Sabrina Mahfouz, Somalia Nonyé Seaton, Stef Smith & Debris Stevenson
Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
They are a bit doom-laden at the Royal Court to judge by The Song Project which hooks up the powerful, often soulful voice of Wende with five writers to produce a ninety-minute collection of eighteen songs.
They are linked only by the singer and an impressive group of musicians. There is no connecting storyline or common theme unless it is the theme of despair. The sadness expressed in the lyrics is usually vague, private and internal. Its cause is always unclear even if words like “lonely” get a mention.
The narrator in Debris Stevenson’s "Horror Story" tells us, “I weep in my sleep and I weep in between… in gross, in dark: inside me”. We don't learn why this should be the case. There’s simply the unhappiness. Maybe that’s all there is.
E V Crowe’s "Lonely Bitch" claims, “It's okay to be bored and ugly… I’ve started to go to parties with no idea who I am. I’m a blank blank blank”. That nihilistic drift is in other songs. Stef Smith’s "Bones" tells us, “my bones lay on the bed frame, it’s the only thing I am certain of... there is nothing to believe in, after I die, pile up and polish my bones, As a monument to a life spent alone."
The world and what you do about it has vanished beyond disturbing objects such as the dangerous water in E V Crowe’s "A Dark Black Pool" where “a girl got raped”, another got killed and our narrator decides to swim in it despite the warnings. Why not, there doesn’t seem to be much of an alternative to bowing before the inevitable horror. As Somalia Nonyé Seaton’s "Beast Undone" advises, "let’s join hands and jump into the unknown, Because there is nowhere else to go Nowhere else to go”
No surprise than that E V Crowe’s "Oh No" says, “I can’t tell if I’m awake Or drowning in lead-weighted Question marks?” I suspect that is a thought shared by a number of audience members.
There are occasional lighter moments, as when Wende sings E V Crowe’s "Mother Fucker" and gets almost the entire audience to join her in the chorus of “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."
However, most songs feel similar and unmemorable. An exception is Somalia Nonyé Seaton’s "Where You Gonna Go" with its haunting catchline: “Where you gonna go when the need bleeds dry / When you’re ready to be seen but there’s nothing left to feel / Where you gonna go when the need bleeds dry?" It is moving and remains with you long after you leave the concert, but I’ve no idea what it’s about.
The world may be very depressing for the writers of these songs, but ninety minutes of these nihilistic fragments can be wearing for an audience even if they are delivered by the stunning voice of Wende. They are also out of step with the engaging material of the Royal Court’s Living Newspaper or even the inspiring voices of protesters marching across London as I write these words.
The Song Project will be returning to the Royal Court in June 2022.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna