Review by Daz Gale
Barb Jungr is no stranger to The Crazy Coqs cabaret venue at Zedel in the heart of London, regularly bringing her talents there to perform a variety of shows including her recent Immigrant Songs.. This time around, she was there in a different capacity – presenting a new work in progress show she has written with Mike Lindup but does not perform in herself – Soho Songs. Fittingly performed in the heart of Soho, I excitedly watched to see a brand new show, still in its infancy, Soho Songs is a collection of songs written about… you guessed it, Soho. All standalone in their story, this song cycle doesn’t have a narrative but are all linked by their location and events that happen in this infamous area. Only the second time this work has been aired publicly following a previous outing at the same venue last year. For this performance, a cast of five were assembled to bring these new musical numbers to life. They were Hannah Nuttall, Emma Salvo, James Guilford, Stephen Lambert and Will De Renzi-Martin. With a mix of solos, duets and group numbers, they showed fantastic characterisation as they embodied the 14 versatile numbers.
Among the numbers were songs centred around particular professions you may come across in Soho with James, Stephen and Will taking on the eccentric and ‘The Bin Workers Song’ and the brilliantly monotone and passive aggressive ‘Bouncer Man’ in what was a highlight of the evening. Other themes throughout the show were estate agents, pit musicians and trafficked girls – all interesting in subject but not all managed to land as effortlessly as others. The most satisfyingly sensational number was ‘Swing To The Lead’ led by Emma Salvo – fabulously telling the story of the incredible swings that make up the lifeblood of the theatre and what happens when one of them has to go on for the lead. A fantastic demonstration of Barb and Mike’s ability to tell a story through song, the witty lyrics made this the undoubted standout of the night. This was a work in progress show and as such, some of the numbers did fall flat in comparison to the others. ‘Save The Shangri La’ felt under-developed in comparison to other numbers, while ‘Kit On, Kit Off’ lacked any sort of impact and seemed to plod along without a great sense of satisfaction. While some songs felt more put together than others, even the ones that still clearly needed a bit of work were full of potential.
The five performers on hand each had their own moments to shine and repeatedly proved what fine talents they were – be it Emma Salvo’s expressive characterisation, Hannah Nuttall’s ability to steal a moment, the glorious singing voices of Stephen Lambert and Will de Renzy-Martin or the versatile but always captivating approach to James Guilliford’s multiple characters. Each were a marvel to witness and managed to believably become the various weird and wacky people in each song. Barb Jungr and Mike Lindups writing exhibits a beautiful quality, full of depth and comedy. Their ability to craft a story in several minutes from beginning to resolution is incredibly impressive and with Soho Songs they have created an interesting song cycle that could prove to be unstoppable. While it may still need some tweaks, there is no denying the calibre of the writing behind it. It feels a bit harsh to review a show that has been explicitly stated as a work in progress as the work needed to be done is clear to see. Is the show where it needs to be yet? Not quite, but do I think it can get there? Absolutely. There is something special buried away in this collection of songs – with a bit more development, I believe Soho Songs could be exceptional.