West End Best Friends – Elle Knowles
The Palladium stage is set with chairs, instruments and one single ghost light. The band walks on stage and the audience erupts into applause – this continues for a while. The stage goes dark leaving the ghost light lit. A door opens at the back of the stage letting in a beam of light and the silhouette of a woman is seen. A soft but soaring voice begins to sing… “A new world just around the corner” and she removes the ghost light.
As each actor appears onstage, the audience meets them with rapturous applause. The support in the room for the performers was overwhelming and it felt like we were about to experience something very special.
Songs For A New World is a song cycle musical written by Jason Robert Brown. Being a song cycle, there isn’t really a through storyline. Yet director Séimí Campbell has managed to perfectly mould the show to fit the current theatre climate, with many hidden messages about the future of the theatre industry…or should we say the new world. The carefully choreographed pathways of each actor as they move about the stage, changing the positions of the mic stands as they went, was slick and made what could be a very stagnant show feel fluid.
The design of the show was very simple. The raw nature of the set and costumes had a message of how important everyone who works in our industry is. Having all the lights and wires exposed helped highlight the technicians and stage hands who work on shows, yet rarely get the praise they deserve as what they do goes unseen by the audience. Having the band and conductor onstage also shows the audience the hard work that usually takes place under the stage, therefore going unseen. I love how this production just encapsulates everything that goes into putting on a show.
The performers were just sublime and their voices blended together perfectly. Rachel John’s stunning voice opened the show, setting the tone for the sheer talent that we were about to experience. Rachel Tucker gave us so much character in her performances of ‘Just One Step’ and ‘Surabaya-Santa’, which had the audience howling, yet had everyone close to tears with her raw, emotional performance of ‘The Flagmaker, 1775’ in Act 2.
David Hunter’s storytelling skills really came to fruition during his performance of ‘The World Was Dancing’, taking the audience on a journey, with John’s light, floaty vocal being the cherry on top. But the highlight of the show has to go to Cedric Neal’s performance of ‘Flying Home’, which can only be described as gospel. A special shoutout has to go to the featured role played by 2020 graduate, Shem Omari James. As soon as James walked onto the stage, he completely commanded the space, speaking his first line “you don’t know me, but you will” and he wasn’t lying.
I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears during ‘Hear My Song’. The lyrics “listen to the song that I sing and trust me…we’ll be fine” hit me right in my theatrical heart. Theatre isn’t going anywhere.