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And So Forth London Launch
St. James's Church
4th June 2015


Adam Drew and Danielle Winter as Him and Her

Photography © Marianne Chua

If you can remember the word "interdisciplinary" and repeat it quickly three times without fluffing, you know it's okay to be boozing in a church outside of communion time; you're still perfectly sober. If you're starting to fall on the wrong side of relaxed, you only need to focus your mind on two things. Firstly, the sheer beauty of absolutely everything and secondly, the varied mix of art forms unfolding around you. Gorgeous and interdisciplinary. Got that? Oh, it's almost like you were there. Actually, I'm doing the company a disservice, it would have taken an awful lot to distract anyone from the performance: this unique one-night only event by And So Forth is probably the most exciting launch I've ever been to.

It's always hard to know what to expect from an event like this: ambition, certainly, however that doesn't always equate into talent, and sometimes an extract from a work-in-progress isn't enough to properly showcase the intentions behind the material. Artistic Director Laura Attridge has pulled out all the stops though, with a song cycle project consisting of seven tunes from upcoming opera Damsel/Wife/Witch, a Q&A with the three of the composers, two of the opening scenes acted out and - seemingly because she likes creating extra work for herself - a concert performance of Now, another production which And So Forth are currently working on. Although nothing has been finished yet, there's a staggering amount of determination and skill on display. Attridge and team, we salute you.

There's something quite thankless about being the pre-show background noise - half the audience don't even know you're there and are busy chatting, picking up tickets and grabbing a drink from the bar. Yet singer Harriet Eaves and pianist Nathan Jarvis seemed in high spirits as they entertained with jazz versions of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Britney Spears' Toxic. There's almost an Amy Winehouse-esque quality to Eaves's voice and she's a pleasant and reassuring warm up act, with Jarvis, much like all the accompanists who followed, technically spot on.

The seven songs from Damsel/Wife/Witch are performed before the theatre extract, giving you no context. This means you have to work that little bit harder to understand what they mean and how they link together. It quickly becomes apparent that they're about womanhood and growing up - titles such as Stepmother and Wolf evoke fairytales and the original darkness of authors like the Brothers Grimm is there in the sometimes crueler and more difficult aspects of being female. Katherine Aitken, Jenny Stafford, Claire Barnett-Jones, Anna Sideris and Rozanna Madylus are all fantastic singers, however it's Rebecca Hardwick who stands out. Covering for late illness, she sings First Blood as well as Skin. Traditional churches generally have excellent acoustics for choral music and Hardwick uses this to her advantage, drawing out the most majestic echoes, holding notes with an unsettling, ethereal and haunting control. Sideris is also worth highlighting for her sheer expressiveness and the emotion she packs into each word.

Victoria Longdon, Charlotte Howes, Sarah Hayashi, Laure Poissonnier, Claire Harris, William Wallace and James Davies

Photography © Marianne Chua

Breaking up the pace, Rose Hall, Kevin Penkin and Christopher Schlechte-Bond, the composers behind Beast, First Blood and Widow, are interviewed by Lewis Murphy. As Murphy - the company's composer in residence and the man responsible for penning the music to Now - holds his fellow composers in conversation, what we learn more than anything else is that And So Forth are not only incredibly talented, they're all disgustingly young. I warn you, if you're approaching a milestone birthday and haven't ticked off all your goals yet, finding out how talented and young the artists are will only make you feel horribly inadequate. Hearing them talk about their work, you understand just how much passion they have for the project.

Richard Walls teams up with Attridge to pen the first two scenes of Damsel/Wife/Witch. The two protagonists, simply called Her (Danielle Winter) and Him (Adam Drew) horse around and although there's an initial playfulness to the action, it soon becomes obvious that the couple are at quite a serious crossroads. He wants to get married and settle down; she doesn't really know if that's what she wants with anyone, let alone him. No man is an island and neither is any woman. She acknowledges the impact he's had on her life, yet she's still trying to carve out an identity of her own. Our leading lady isn't a helpless damsel dependent on a man to save her; she's not a bitter Miss Havisham hiding in the attic decrying love. She's somewhere in between: there's an honesty and balance to the gender dynamic in Damsel/Wife/Witch, which when blended with the fairytale arc makes this book incredibly intriguing.

With the majority of the evening dedicated to Damsel/Wife/Witch, the 12-minute opera performance of Now feels almost like an afterthought. A mildly confusing, technically brilliant afterthought set in a post-apocalyptic chaotic future. It's hard to criticise any of the performance by singers Charlotte Howes, Laure Poissonnier, William Wallace, James Davies or Sarah Hayashi - particularly as Hayashi was another late stand-in. With that said, you can't quite get into the storyline, there's just not enough of it.

I'm not entirely sure where Attridge and Walls are going with the book of Damsel/Wife/Witch. My gut says that the opera is going to tackle the male/female bond in a way which is genuine, rounded, and whilst sometimes whimsical, never twee. I haven't seen enough of Now, however I've seen enough of And So Forth to wholeheartedly endorse their future and fangirl about what is to follow. Spoiler alert: I'm predicting great things.

And So Forth London Launch took place on 4th June 2015 at St. James's Church. Damsel/Wife/Witch will run from 15th to 18th September 2015 at Peckham Asylum.

Nearest tube station: Lancaster Gate (Central)

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