EdFringe 2023 Review: Sing, River ★★★

“Sing, River’s fusion of mythology and queer identity do not always fuse with complete ease, yet Jones’s committed performance carries the project well.”

Blending elements of the evolving queer experience with English mythology, Sing, River from writer and sole performer Nathaniel Jones, defies traditional examples of genre. The project, directed by Katie Kirkpatrick, could be described as something of a coming of age folk musical, yet the project packs much into its hour long run-time at the Pleasance Courtyard.

On a stage adorned with carnation-filled vases and props including a small disco ball, splash shaped mirror tiles, and a plastic crown, Jones takes us down two very different narrative routes. Part reflection on coming to terms with his queerness, part lovelorn ode to ancient English midsummer traditions, Jones weaves hopeful folk songs into these tales and stories of medieval kings and fays. Musical compositions from composer Faye James accompany Jones throughout these reflections.

Director Kirkpatrick shares: “It’s about history and memory, both national and personal. There are two trains of thought, and where they combine is where the story comes to life.” Jones longs for his golden era, spending an evening on the riverbed leaving an offering to the fays – hoping to reconjure the magic of a pure, truly happy memory from his past. Through song he reflects on the story of a King, held hostage by the mythical creatures for his failure to make a worthwhile offering. Hoping to learn from the King’s mistake and donate a worthwhile offering of his own, our protagonist presents a rainbow bandana which sees him reflect on its significance and his journey.

Yet Sing, River contains darker textures, exploring how the human condition for love can often twist and mould our memories into a fiction which suits better. The protagonist reminisces on discovering his queer identity – a dressing up box filled with plastic gold jewellery (signified by the presence of a gold plastic crown situated on stage – drawing together the English folklore with the lead’s queer identity) and his parent’s discomfort at their son’s attraction to this. This is followed by memories of a first trip to London for Pride and subsequently falling into a romance with the man who would become his first boyfriend. These memories which the protagonist initially longed for are shadowed with more unsettling memories when he begins to reflect. Themes of abusive relationships and finding queer identity are presented with a sense of delicacy here.

Jones’s performance can occasionally feel like two distinct entities, relaxed and refreshingly human when exploring memories and relationships, yet slightly more rigid when delving into the stories of folklore and English mythology. Jones is accompanied by restrained pre-recorded piano-driven backing as he delicately delves into stories of folklore through song. These can often feel something esoteric and a challenge to connect to the narrative and themes of Sing, River.

Sing, River’s fusion of mythology and queer identity do not always combine with complete ease, yet Jones’s committed performance carries the project well. Honest depictions of the coming of age period are engaging, as is the exploration of the changing nature of memories and our relationship with the past.

Sing, River runs in Pleasance Courtyard Bunker One until August 27th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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