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Theatre Review Top-notch biblical folk-tale

SIMON PARSONS recommends a musical retelling of the Old Testament story of the sexual awakening of a young childless bride

Song of Songs
Park Theatre, London

 

INSPIRED by the Old Testament book also known as the Song of Solomon, this award-winning musical play sets out to explore the themes at the heart of the biblical collection of erotic love poems without the religious context.

The simple plot, told as a traditional folk story by the mad, wandering poetess of love is that of a young woman Tirzah, forced into a loveless, unfulfilling marriage who is only awakened to the intense power of desire with the arrival of mysterious love letters that spark her sexual liberation and empower her as a woman.

At the heart of this compelling show is Ofra Daniel, director, writer of both the music and lyrics, as well as the actor playing the mesmerising Tirzah. Her transformation from love-ravaged poet to a young, childless bride imprisoned within traditional home life, to her growing sexual awakening and awareness of female sensuality is spellbinding.

Both vocally and physically she embodies the essence of the Tirzah’s self-awakening from the first stirrings of desire and lust to sexual passion and celebration and, finally, to despair and hopelessness with the inevitable, agonising loss.

Matthew Woodyatt’s older, emotionally repressed and distant husband provides a telling contrast to Daniel’s youthful sexuality and desire, while Joaquin Pedro Valdes’s secretive lover creates a stirring spur to Tirzah’s fevered imagination with his songs of love and poetic cantorial chants that are reminiscent of the subject’s original source.

The Greek-style chorus of four women in flamenco-style costumes, representing the world of ancient Jerusalem, fill the stage with expressive movement, song and dance, ranging from exuberant folk songs to energetic musical numbers suggestive of Fiddler on the Roof, as well as plaintive chants that become the context and the background to Tirzah’s impassioned journey.

The five versatile musicians are fully involved throughout, often joyously engaging with the action on stage. In the style of a Jewish klezmer band, with clarinet, violin, flamenco guitar, bass and traditional percussion they create a stirring blend of Middle Eastern music that embraces the breadth and intensity of Tirzah’s feelings.

Much of the language is extracted directly from versions of the biblical poems with frequent references to wildlife, verdant gardens and fruitfulness — all emblematic of sexuality — but the pastoral nature of the imagery also underlies the elemental nature of Tirzah’s overriding desire for love that dominates this captivating show.

Runs until June 15. Box office: (020) 7870-6876, parktheatre.co.uk.

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