IN BRIEF Potent and haunting song cycle, performed with heart and soul

After Dave Malloy’s singular PRELUDES at Southwark Playhouse last month, the collective appetite was well and truly whetted for his GHOST QUARTET.

It doesn’t disappoint. Mellow, playful, inventive, GHOST QUARTET is a delight- a captivating song cycle intercut with story fragments. This is a show more about the act of storytelling than the actual stories themselves.

The circular stage of this new intimate in the round venue is a veritable treasure trove in itself- Simon Kenny’s set is a clutter of musical instruments, furniture, steamer trunks. Not an inch of the stage is unused over the 90 minutes running time. The four performers circle, climb and reconfigure the elements, whilst also revealing items hidden in seats and cases. The show doesn’t let up with little theatrical surprises: a dizzying array of eclectic, unusual instruments – mostly stringed and percussion – and effects equipment appear and are played with skill.

The announced track listings in this song cycle help to giving the show some kind of structure. The story fragments (told through the songs) are intriguing but it gets a little tricksy if you try to follow it too literally. You just need to relax into it, as this is a show more concerned with the concept more than character development or other traditional musical theatre tick-boxes.

From the outset, the ensemble of four actor/musicians create a warm and inclusive ambiance, at times directly taking to and mingling with the audience, and at others actually allowing them to carry the stage. We particularly enjoyed the whiskey number Four Friends- and the audience participation in raising a glass of the hard stuff was most enthusiastic!

But it’s the range and quality of Dave Malloy’s songs which most delights- from the exquisite Hero to the laid- back bonhomie of Four Friends, this is an ever-intriguing set of songs that constantly surprises.

All four perfectly-cast performers play and sing with abundant skill. Each have their standout moments whilst working harmoniously as an ensemble to create a rich musical texture.  Carly Bawden brings all her extraordinary skill to songs including Star Child- wistful and fragile, and Hero – exquisitely sung and haunting. Zubin Varla’s smoky lower register is beautifully worked in the support of some great piano playing – especially the number entitled Monk.

Dave Malloy’s skills as a composer are complemented by the direction of Bill Buckhurst who has produced a show with much care and attention to detail, good to look at and listen to. The ninety minutes simply flew by.

Delightfully potent, intriguing with a mellow aftertaste, GHOST QUARTET is a classic blend that I shall be imbibing again very soon. Cheers!

GHOST QUARTET Plays the Boulevard Theatre until January 4th. Details and tickets here

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