We very rarely see a dud downstairs at the Hampstead – Ed Hall’s project to put works on down there regularly has been a raging success as far as we are concerned.
But sadly, I feel obliged to report that this one, to us, was a dud.
The idea sounded great. An iconic 1970s protest songstress, now a recluse, with an estranged daughter and a fundamentally important secret about that iconic career.
Trouble is, that’s about it, plot-wise. The important secret has a rather “so what?”, tenuous feeling about it, while the motivation of the characters to behave as they do/had done in the past, if the secret was so important to them, was utterly dubious.
It was also difficult to care for even one of the three characters, each irritating in their own way: the iconic songstress, the estranged aspiring chanteuse daughter, and the Californian PhD student who has been studying the icon for six years only then to act as the catalyst for the wafer-thin plot to unfold.
Daisy nodded off about 20 minutes into the piece, once it became clear where it was (and wasn’t) going.
I wondered whether the PhD student’s explanation of protest song types, rhetorical and magnetic, was something the playwright had invented for him or whether it was an actual media studies/sociology course thing. Turns out it is the latter and that the explanation as expounded by the character can be found in the Wikipedia entry on protest songs under “types” and that this particular classification should be credited to the late R. Serge Denisoff, bless him.
The actors sang some protest songs along the way, closing with We Shall Overcome and at one point rendering This Land Is Your Land, quite well.
I rather like the latter song but Janie, tragically not steeped in media studies or the sociology of popular culture, perceives it as a nationalistic US song rather than Woody Guthrie’s intended protest song and has banned me from singing it on my ukulele in her presence. She should click the link I have added to the phrase This Land Is Your Land and look at some of the original lyrics. In particular, the verse that reads:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.
…that verse might come back into fashion some time soon. But they didn’t sing that verse in this rather bland play. Pity.