This intimate performance is enhanced by the space downstairs at The Shoreditch Town Hall. Images of the underground are projected onto the three curved panels of Bethany Wells’ simple yet effective set. Kaleidoscopic seat patterns swirl around and we recognise the white tiled walls that line the warrens between platforms, either side of a poster showing green landscapes of life outside of London. With Sarah Readman (lighting design) and Jon McLeod (sound design), Wells has captured the essence of London life.
As you enter, you are greeted by Samal’s beautiful, soulful singing. She stands on the ‘official’ floor marking of a busking pitch and a flat cap lies in front of her mic filled with change. She casually jams with musicians Joe Archer and Adam Cross, who expertly accompany her. The relaxed tone is set.
What follows is a journey through Samal’s life as a busker. Starting with the audition on an abandoned platform aged just 17, she weaves busking facts, observations and impersonations through familiar and original songs. She shares stories with the audience, often in rhyme: some are particularly poignant, such as her father's repeatedly rejected asylum applications, and her rescue by a tramp from a suited bully in the isolation after rush hour. Other moments are hilarious, particularly her encounter with her amnesic ‘Jiminy Cricket’, whom she nicknames ‘Experience’; a bizarre Spanish woman who steals her mic and teaches her that music can make change come.
Changes over the last ten years are astutely observed: so many people now rush past with headphones in, glued to their phones. Amusingly, she brings attention to the increasing cost of travel with a mock departure board exaggerating the prices.
Samal is a true wordsmith with a rare ability to have us laughing one minute and on the verge of tears the next. Her incredible rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come is a prime example. It gives prominence to a particularly moving story about her father and is a real highlight of this hour-long show.
Director Guy Jones and Samal have worked together wonderfully to create a rich, insightful gig-theatre performance which keeps the audience enthralled. There are some clunky moments, such as the encounter with her father and a few themes are hammered a little too hard where others remain under-developed. However, for a woman who usually only has a moment to affect people, she is definitely able to hold our attention.
How many times have you walked past a busker? I suggest you stop and listen to this one.