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Christian Durham

Review: SONGLINES at HighTide Festival

Songlines After a stop off in Edinburgh and Aldeburgh, Hightide lands in Walthamstow for its two-week London season. A pop-up hub of music, comedy, food, family shows and theatre with plenty of exciting new writing.

Walthamstow is the Borough of Culture for 2019 and its passion for culture and the arts clearly rings out for not only its residents but for the whole of London to experience a varied and intriguing mix of performance. Songlines by Tallulah Brown was the opening show and if everything is as strong as this piece, then Steven Atkinson in his final year as Artistic Director of Hightide, is handing over a vibrant and rich Festival to the future.

Stevie arrives in the countryside at her religiously strict grandmothers after being ‘asked to leave’ her last school. Despite having a semi-absent mother who encourages free-love and ‘talking to one’s vagina’, Stevie is like any other young teenager seeking a path into adulthood through confusion, desperation and raging hormones.

She soon meets Stan, who has reached the heady heights of being the school’s lost property monitor and is mostly the focus of bullying from both the other kids and his family.

The two outsiders are soon on a mutual journey of fraught emotions and never being able to say what they really feel to each other. Why is truth so hard to say out loud?

Their trials and tribulations are hilariouslybrought to life in George Chilcott’s pitch perfect production.

Brown’s excellent writing captures all of the idiosyncrasies of teenagerhood which makes us laugh and sympathise in equal measure.

There is also a hint of the poetic in the language when the characters talk to the audience which gives the piece a sense of the epic.

Fanta Barrie (Stevie) and Joe Hurst (Stan)really fly with this material. Through gangly physicality and incisive comic timing, they grip the audience instantly. Hurst is like a young Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em with real heart.

Tallulah Brown is also actually on stage with her band, the Trills, watching the action and dropping in live music, just when it is needed to let the story breath and highlight the characters’ journeys.

This is a simple production that allows the stories to be heard. The lovely mixing of the poetic, the folk music and sense of modern fable sat on the tale of two people just trying to understand how like works is a beautiful example of ‘gig’ theatre.