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Sing, River review


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This year I have been fortunate enough to review a handful of pieces of new writing at The Hope Theatre in Islington. The performance space is an intimate auditorium above the main bar at The Hope and Anchor pub and the theatrical organisation provides a platform for up and coming artists to present their work. This week I headed back to the venue to review Love Song Productions’ new show ‘Sing, River’. It is a new musical themed around British mythology, paganism and rituals, and is having a 10 day run in London ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe. Written by Nathaniel Jones and with direction by the company’s very own Katie Kirkpatrick, the show focuses on trauma, memories and queer identity. The theatre company specialises in LGBTQ+ theatre so it felt rather fitting to be reviewing the production on the eve of London Pride.

Sing, River credits on the wall at The Hope Theatre, Islington

Background, structure and format

The audience has been invited to a Midsummer celebration on the Thames riverbed, with one hour of performance time representing a whole night. The main character who remains nameless (played by Jones) marks the occasion annually, along with various other events in the Pagan calendar. The production follows the evening through to sunrise, filled with stories and personal anecdotes about sexuality and identity. Throughout the work artefacts on the riverbed are explored, whilst the character looks back on moments in their life thus far and the significance of the objects. It is deeply personal and involves some audience interaction too, moving between historic folklore and the present day. With trigger warnings relating to abusive relationships, sexual abuse and strong language, it is an incredibly emotive piece of theatre, set against a fairytale backdrop.

Sing, River poster outside The Hope Theatre, Islington

Mythology and music

The musical compositions have been penned by Faye James, with lyrics by Jones. It has been a while since I have heard such story-driven lyrics in theatre, with Jones singing about historical river-based legends. At various moments I was so taken by Jones’ vocal tones that I lost track of the meaning of the lyrics to the wider story. The soothing sound of the music and vocals actually make it difficult to catch every word that Jones is singing. Towards the end of the production I understood the significance of the mythological music, but I really needed to concentrate. It can be so easy to slip into the visually soothing atmosphere of the show and lose sight of the relevance of the music.

Production photo for Sing, River at The Hope Theatre, Islington
© Phylly Hickish

Lighting design

Sing, River features enchanting lighting design right from the moment you walk into the theatre. Audiences are immersed in this Midsummer world and you feel as if you have entered a place of tranquillity, worlds away from the busy London road outside the venue. For an intimate one-person piece of theatre, the lighting has been carefully curated to evoke the spirit of fairytales and folklore. Evie Cakebread’s lighting design conscientiously complements the delicacies of the material, offering various glows and hazes at significant moments. I very much look forward to seeing her future work.

Lighting and set design for Sing, River at The Hope Theatre, Islington

Strength in vulnerability

The musical’s strengths lie in Jones’ vulnerable monologues, where the character shares some of their darkest experiences. The majority of the production has a celebratory atmosphere and whilst I understand this decision given the Midsummer setting, I would have liked to see the raw undertones poke through on more occasions. There are repetitive chime sequences which mimic the ticking of a clock during the night’s events and whilst it does act as a fictional aid to hurry the performer along given the short timescale, the transparent and personal sections could have been given so much more runtime.

Production photo for Sing, River at The Hope Theatre, Islington
© Phylly Hickish

There are also moments where Jones speaks to the audience through a microphone. Other than for the musical segments, I cannot see the need for this, given the close nature of the show. It actually separates Jones and the audience, when they are supposed to be sitting together to mark Midsummer. Perhaps this could be revisited so that the intimacy of the material is not affected.

The future of Sing, River

The musical has vast amounts of potential, with its bewitching folk soundtrack, inspired lighting and the talented Nathaniel Jones in the principal role. 60 minutes didn’t feel like enough time for such a complex story though. I wanted the work to be longer, with Jones’ monologues delving deeper into their life experiences thus far and ultimately providing the audience with a clearer insight into who they are. I look forward to hearing what comes next for this imaginative piece of queer theatre, both in its current form and hopefully an extended version in the future. Despite my thoughts about the combination of lengthy lyrics and the calming folk sequences, the songs are hauntingly beautiful and it would have been wonderful to be able to listen to more of them!

Sing, River promotional artwork at The Hope Theatre, Islington

The moving new folk musical is playing at The Hope Theatre until 8th July, before heading to Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh from the 2nd-27th August. Tickets can be purchased via both The Hope Theatre and EdFringe websites.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Sing, River was gifted in exchange for a review.



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