Pros: Has a greater scope than most plays on the fringe scene; features excellent singing and well-choreographed dances and sword fights.
Cons: It’s overly-long and unfocussed.
Enduring Song is an epic saga that recounts the story of young men who are recruited to fight in the crusades, and the struggling families they leave behind. It is France in the year 1096. The stoic Matthew (Tom Roe) falls under the influence of a smarmy Bishop (Alex Harland) and agrees to join the Crusade to take back the Holy Land. He is joined on his quest by the loutish Gaston (Jac Husebo), principled Georges (Daniel Foxsmith) and baby-faced Hugh (Max MacKintosh). Back in France, several generations of women and a stern patriarch (Rafe Beckley) are left to save the failing family farm. Enduring Song is a multi-generational family saga, with the kind of scope you’d expect to find in a novel or TV-mini-series, certainly not in a fringe theatre production.
Featuring an enormous cast of 19, impressive sword fights, and several musical numbers, Enduring Song may be the most ambitious production I’ve seen as an Everything Theatre reviewer. Unfortunately, Bear Trap Theatre Company doesn’t manage to pull it off. The problem, in my view, is Jesse Briton’s baggy script. The play clocks in at just under three hours, and I felt every minute of it. There are too many characters to keep track of and care about it. It takes a long time for the plot to get moving, and many scenes drag on far longer than necessary.
The play also struggles to find the right tone. Solemn, antiquated dialogue clashes with language that would not seem out of place in a modern comedy. There are a lot of jokes, particularly in the first half, but most fall flat. The second half packs more emotional weight but is also confusing. I found it difficult to hear a lot of the dialogue, much of it war cries shouted over drumming, and somewhere along the line I lost the thread of the story. There were a few moments when I felt genuinely moved, glimmers of the show that might have been. However on the whole, I was left feeling Enduring Song offers a shallow look at war, religion and family.
For me, the highlight of the evening was the gorgeous traditional Coriscan songs by Greg Hall. The singing is of a high standard and the percussion accompaniment is stirring. The cast undoubtedly works hard, but they can’t tame this beast.
Author: Jesse Briton
Director: Jesse Briton
Composer: Greg Hall
Producer: Bear Trap Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/
Booking Until: 5 July 2014