Patrons spill out of Soho Theatre’s bar onto a vibrant Dean Street, and the buzz carries up to the Soho Theatre Upstairs stage. We find a simple set of mostly nick-nacks, musical instruments and a couple of chairs waiting for us there. The cast of tonight’s treat, Fran Bushe’s A Gig for Ghosts, are already around, tuning strings, saying hello to people as they sit down, and chatting to each other. A friendly vibe fills the room and we feel warm, welcomed and ready for what three fabulous women have to offer us.
This is a love story told in a simple and touching way. Amy and Lily (played by Hanora Kamen and Rori Hawthorn) are both victims of feeling isolated, despite their close proximity to nine million other people in London, but they have the good fortune to meet each other and fall in love. The third member of the cast, Liz Kitchen, is credited as Maud, but truly she plays a number of characters throughout. The titular ghosts are present as metaphorical spectres from Amy and Lily’s past and as… well… ghosts. The ‘gig’ element is the format of the evening, prompted by Lily’s upbringing in a family steeped in the aural tradition of folk music. This leaves the cast able to organically sing and play their way through important moments, as well as allowing characters extra room for expressing their own development.
The narrative is an interesting take on a love story, where love can turn into obsession and regret. Moments where it really strikes are in the way it sensitively tackles a number of subjects like loneliness, rejection and particularly death. A full spectrum of grief from delirious joy to overwhelming despair is on show and treated with respect; we all have our own reactions to death and 45North, production team for the show, have sensitively prepared a care pack to support anyone who might need it – a lovely touch. The narrative is sometimes outlandish, but this goes to prove how ubiquitous and relatable the challenging feelings that undercurrent the evening can be.
The music (by Becky CJ with musical direction from Philippa Hogg) is simply but skilfully presented. It never oversteps its boundary into feeling like we are watching a full-on-musical, but is carefully woven into the organic experience of the ‘gig’. But to thank for the evening’s sparkle we can only look to the fabulous trio of minstrels who guide us through. Kitchen in particular seems to be a kind of musico-dramatic glue that holds the whole thing together, supporting the love story duo from behind with a selection of hilarious characters and sensitive musical underscoring. Hawthorn and Kamen seem to inhabit their characters as if it were truly their own story, and in telling it to us make us feel welcome and loved.
Book and lyrics by: Fran Bushe
Produced by: 45North
Music by: Becky CJ
Directed by: Ria Parry
Musical direction by: Philippa Hogg
A Gig for Ghosts plays at Soho Theatre until 12 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.