Billed as a culmination of a three-year project working with Norfolk communities creating contemporary responses to protest songs, this hour-long performance seemed sadly unaware of its own context.
In the glitzy surroundings of the glass and wooden Spiegeltent and dressed in a velvety black jacket Jessica Walker opened the arch, almost operatic, ballad The Other Side that features lyrics about choosing between food and heating.
The sentiment was no doubt earnest, and Walker, joined by Hannah Azuonye and the Chroma ensemble, was suitably sombre-faced throughout.
Other songs, co-written by Walker and Luke Styles, dealt with homelessness, social mobility, LGBTQ+ rights, and plastic waste but all were performed with a steely resolve, apparently aping the 1920s and 1930s works of people like Brecht and Eisler but lacking their warmth. There were some nice jokes in The State of Things Today but they were mostly lost in the delivery.
Clips from community interviews ran between the songs, with voices overlaying each other in repetition even occasionally coming close to rap – but that hint of a truly contemporary approach was never delivered on. Compared to something like The Common Lot’s Songs of Hope and Protest, this show let its collaborators and its audience down. It didn’t sound like Diss or Sheringham to me.
One recording – included but not addressed – was of a man saying how as a white, privileged man he felt uncomfortable at even the idea of suggesting the topic of a protest song, and how it risked being performed to an echo chamber of mostly lefty, mostly comfortable people that would nod along in agreement.
They were the most perceptive lyrics of the night.
- The Norfolk and Norwich Festival continues until May 28, 2023.