A Song of Songs – Park Theatre | Review

It’s rare that a production written by, directed and starring the same person is without fault – and Ofra Daniel in A Song of Songs does not, alas, defy the norm in that regard. With a mixture of Middle Eastern and European flamenco influences, it’s only clear where the show is set as Jerusalem keeps getting name-dropped. Rather confusingly, a note in the programme claims the show has “no specific place or era”. To be fair, the ‘era’ is indeed rather vague, but it’s not a society that has much appeal, with the central character Tirzah (Daniel) and all the female characters treated quite terribly, at least by contemporary standards.

A Song of Songs. Photo credit: Pamela Raith
A Song of Songs. Photo credit: Pamela Raith

For something meant to be in what the satirical musical revue Forbidden Broadway once called “non-specific everyplace”, certain lines in the show need some context. For instance, in the Authorised Version, first published in 1611, a verse in the Song of Solomon (as it is called in that translation), chapter IV, verse X, reads: “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse!”, referring to the same person, a verse quoted in this show. ‘My sister’ was a term of endearment for a female lover in ancient Egypt, but with that (and, apparently, any and all) context removed, it is entirely possible to wonder if there were characters in the show in an incestuous relationship.

A late plot twist, convincing as it was, in the end raised more questions than answers, and while some of the choreography is energetic, there was a considerable amount of skirt shaking. There are at least two songs in the show sung in Hebrew (without translation). From a schoolboy Google search, ‘Elecha’ is a prayer, “To you, God, I call […] Hear, O God, and have mercy on me”. ‘Od Yishama’ is taken from the Book of Jeremiah, chapter XXXIII, and talks about “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride”. The dancing in the latter musical number makes sense, but again, it’s not easy to determine at face value precisely what is going on: it came across to me at the time like a generic song not sung in English at the Eurovision Song Contest, lively and well-performed but not exactly something that connected with me.

“Never rouse love. But once love has been awakened, never put it back to sleep,” is the narrator’s (Matthew Woodyatt) mantra, although it’s not clear how that principle works in practice in the show. The band is on-stage, which gives the performance a ‘gig theatre’ vibe, and never became distracting, even as Tirzah gradually developed ever more unusual behaviours: the narrative suggests she is, in a sense, driven to insanity by the power of love. Unfortunately, there’s little in the show to evoke sympathy for her because she is presented as someone who forthrightly forges her own path, and thus (without giving too much away) she makes her bed and therefore she lies in it.

The musical ends abruptly, and for all the physical dexterity and musical talent of Daniel’s Tirzah, not much about the character is discovered beyond the receipt of correspondence in the form of poems from her lover, which she overreacts to. I’m not sure an interval was required, either – this could have been one of those ‘ninety minutes, straight through’ productions. An earnest effort from the cast, whose stage space is made limited by presence of the on-stage band, but there were too many elements and plot points that didn’t quite add up.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

CAST
Ofra Daniel – Tirzah
Laurel Dougall – Woman of Jerusalem and Sister
Rebecca Giacopazzi – Women of Jerusalem and Mother
Shira Kravitz – Woman of Jerusalem and Sister
Ashleigh Schuman – Woman of Jerusalem and Bride
Joaquin Pedro Valdes – Lover and Aunt
Matthew Woodyatt – Narrator, Husband, Father and Accordion

MUSICIANS
Ramón Ruiz – Flamenco Guitar
Amy Price – Violin
Ashley Blasse – Upright Bass
Daniel Gouly – Clarinets and Music Captain
Ant Romero – Percussion

CREATIVE TEAM
Ofra Daniel – Director and Translator
Billy Mitchell – Choreographer and Assistant Director
Victoria Góngora – Associate Director
Thomas F Arnold – Musical Supervisor
Marina Paz – Set and Costume Designer
Aaron J Dootson – Lighting Designer
Andrew Johnson – Sound Designer
Katy Roberts – Associate Designer
Jane Deitch – Casting Director

A SONG OF SONGS

A unique musical and theatrical experience, it tells the evocative story of a young wife, Tirzah, in a loveless marriage. Tirzah discovers she has an unseen admirer and enters into a mysterious and fervent love affair; finding herself in what is a seductive, sensuous, soul-searing journey of sexual and climatic personal empowerment… or is it love-induced madness?

Thursday 9 May – Saturday 15 June 2024
Park Theatre
https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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