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Posts Tagged ‘Roxanna Silbert’

Nell Leyshon’s play was a Covid cancellation casualty which got a BBC radio production instead. Finally, its on stage at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, where it has even more impact as a thoughtful, charming piece about both folk song collecting and life in early 20th Century Somerset.

Louie and Lucy are half-sisters, living in the Somerset levels. They are very different personalities, though they both make gloves at home and sing the songs their recently deceased mother taught them. Lucy flirts with John, who collects the finished gloves. He has another job working for the local minister and persuades Louie to take on the role of maid for the minister’s visitor, Cecil Sharp, who is on a song collecting mission. He persuades Louie to sing her mothers songs so that he can write them down for posterity, something she struggles to understand, seeing songs as things passed on orally. Their relationship develops, Sharp in awe of her songs and singing, and Louie fascinated by her glimpse into his musical world.

The personal story of the sisters is seamlessly interwoven with the story of Sharp’s song collecting, as John moves in with Lucy and Louie’s relationship with Sharp continues with his second visit. He’s brought with him a book of the songs he collected on the first visit, which provokes the debate at the heart of the play about what right he has to take these ever evolving songs with their oral tradition and arrange them so that others can sing them uniformly. Louie feels he has stolen or hijacked her mother’s songs. He doesn’t even credit her in his book of them.

Simon Robson brilliantly captures the complexity of Sharp – genuine admiration and empathy, but with a less attractive superiority and arrogance. Mariam Haque plays Louie beautifully, liking the attention and opportunity to share the songs, but resisting the changes of both Sharp and her sister. Sasha Frost is a delight as feisty, flirty Lucy, whose own rejection brings her closer to her sister. Ben Allen is excellent as John, only really concerned with his own interests. The singing and piano playing is lovely.

Roxanna Sibert’s direction is delicate, very sensitive to the material, and Rose Revitt’s design is very evocative of both the place and the period. The writing is very economical; the play never outstays its welcome. I thought it was lovely, and would heartily recommend it.

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