Tuesday, July 16

A Song of Songs – Park Theatre

A ‘song of songs’ was developed by Berkley-based Ofra Daniel as a one-woman show in 2013. Originally called ‘Love Sick’, It travels for its European debut to the Park Theatre supported by trained voices and dancing of Ofra Daniel, Laurel Dougall, Rebecca Giacopazzi, Shira Kravitz, Ashleigh Schuman, Joaquin Pedro Valdes and Matthew Woddyatt. The energetic four-women chorus superbly complements an orchestra that tugs at the heart with its sweet longing and tender overtures. Original songs written and performed by Ofra with an incredible diversity of instruments supported superbly by the sounds of the modern European Flamenco and Klezmer have the audience in raptures.

It reminded me of an adaptation of the ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with its youthful anticipation of marriage and community celebration. The chorus of women takes centre stage after the narrator has set the scene of this ‘crazy naked woman’ running the street. The cast is very talented from the leading stages across London. Each note and pose they strike is on point. The play starts with a detailed setting of the scene by the narrator before tumbling into a flashback as we uncover the life story of our heroine, and we are drawn towards her raison d’etre of being mad and roaming the street naked. However, the play descends in never-ending cliches about women’s love wrapped in the company’s energetic and earnest performance that falls short of genuinely informative or engaging.

They sound like the lost propaganda conservatives wave at us, hoping to make us believe that everywhere, women have no agency, can only be jealous of other women, and chaperone their pleasure with shame and grief. Women are disempowered as they don’t have the initiative in romantic settings or show much solidarity with each other. Because it’s unclear whether they are fighting something or someone. They are not together in the struggle but lost and confused in a disoriented mess. Femme fatales moving anxiously and restlessly on stage.

The on-stage musicians, led by musical Supervisor Thomas F. Arnold on keys, include Ramon Ruiz on lead flamenco guitar, percussionist Antonio Romero, bassist Ashley Blasse, clarinettist Daniel Gouly, and klezmer violinist Amy Price are magical. Each musician brings unique elements and surprises to their music and playing technique, adding to the show’s captivating nature. Amy Price’s energetic performance, often joining the dancers while playing her violin, is commendable.

Unfortunately, the male gaze takes over the whole play. The play is promoted as unique in centring on women’s pleasure but is not curious or open to any opportunities for its fulfilment or climax. The portrayal of male characters in the play tends to lean towards romantic clichés, with figures such as the poet and the dedicated and tidy businessman. However, their underlying controlling behaviour is downplayed. The characterisation of the madwoman, marked by extreme emotion, can inadvertently invalidate women’s painful experiences.

The play is promoted as unique in its focus on women’s pleasure, but it must fully explore or realise this theme. The production team aims to present the play as timeless, yet contemporary political realities influence the audience’s reception. For instance, on the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the play’s use of Arabic music and mention of Jerusalem without acknowledging historical and ongoing conflicts create discomfort.

Overall, “A Song of Songs” attempts to blend various cultural elements and tell a poignant story about love and longing. However, it sometimes needs help to address the complexities of the themes it engages with fully.

Reviewer: Anisha Pucadyil

Reviewed: 14th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.