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Review: The Promise at The Space Theatre

Review by Lisa Lanzi


Filling The Space Theatre with brilliantly crafted songs and original music, Wende was a force of nature and had the audience on their feet applauding by the finale.  The performer has said: “This performance is a promise to myself. To be allowed to be who I am and to discover which roles I fulfil.”


The Promise is a co-production of Stichting WENDE, The Royal Court Theatre London and International Theater Amsterdam.  In collaboration with Royal Court associate designer Chloe Lamford, composer Isobel Waller-Bridge, choreographer Imogen Knight and playwrights E.V. Crowe, Sabrina Mahfouz, Somalia Nonyé Seaton, Stef Smith and Debris Stevenson, The Song Project development focused on those moments in life where “rationality feels irrelevant”.  As Wende stated during the show, some things can only be expressed through song.  Themes explore the realm and “messiness” of birth, death, rage, friendship, the male gaze, motherhood, loss, and ageing.  There existed a powerfully feminist atmosphere where even in the sombre vocal moments, solidarity and hope shone through.


On stage with Wende and the centred jumble of instruments were the talented trio Nils Davidse (keys), Emma King (drums, vibraphone, backing vocals), and Midori Jaeger (keys, cello, backing vocals).  The ensemble was a cohesive whole, so in touch with each other and the material that it appeared effortless.  The ‘clump’ of instruments centre stage, audience on four sides and the musicians, particularly Wende and Davidse, moving between instruments allowed Wende to energetically traverse every part of the stage, including up the aisle steps and through/over the audience.  The choreographed physicality was as much a feature as the astonishing musicality.

Billed as a “modern song cycle”, The Promise offers a visceral ninety minute ride, part rock concert, part theatrical event, where each song possesses a discrete style but remains connected through the beauty and relevance of enchantingly poetic writing.  Wende’s voice shows enormous range, from lilting, heart-breaking high notes all the way through to a rock growl or music theatre belt; at all times with excellent diction and riveting intent.  Her energy is reminiscent of Pink, or Gaga, even Tina Turner, but channels the emotion of Piaf and the theatricality of Patti LuPone.  It is rare to see a singer with such a deep, authentic connection to the audience.  It felt as if she looked into every person’s soul and saw you looking right back, all the while relishing her time performing and giving her all.


Lighting design was attuned to the energy and emotion generated by each song and the position Wende occupied on stage.  With formidable actorly sensibilities she commanded attention without any sense of arrogance, performing with innate generosity and an obvious high regard for this important project.  Each song was a feast of lyrical imagery, the quality of the writing giving rise to the finest song crafting I’ve experienced in some time.   Wende confessed she is the kind of singer and songwriter who needs the lyrics to arrive first, the music following, and this rich collaboration, begun in 2020, was an inspired one. 


When the London-born Dutch singer delivers lines like “where you gonna go when the need bleeds dry” or “I walk into the water of my identity, I’ll swim in a million versions of me” there occurred that rare, pure stillness in the theatre as we glimpse into a shared vision of humanity and womanhood.  I left the theatre wishing I could experience The Promise all over again.  


Image Supplied

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