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Elegies: A Song Cycle

Published Thursday 11 November 2004 at 13:35 by Mark Shenton

There isn’t a more intimate, reflective or moving musical evening in London than the British premiere of American composer William Finn’s delicately haunting, achingly beautiful song cycle Elegies.

In a collection of songs that pulse with humanity and humour, feeling and friendship, Finn celebrates people - and in one number, dogs - he has known and loved and brings them back to vivid and poignant life.

And though Finn, whose work is little known in the UK, writes mostly of a very specific, very personal Manhattan milieu - the programme even helpfully provides a glossary for some of the names mentioned that may be unfamiliar to audiences here - he immediately makes the particular seem universal just by the clarity of the musical drawings he makes of them.

Like a good portrait that doesn’t merely give you the likeness of the subject but also some of his or her indomitable spirit, Finn’s songs arrestingly get to the inner heart of what made them tick. I have seldom wept so frequently for people I did not know before. Nor, indeed, have I keenly felt the warm, infectious glow of pleasure of making their acquaintance now as I did here.

As magically and exquisitely rendered in Jamie Lloyd’s simply staged production, a stellar five-strong cast give the material both weight and feeling in abundance. You may very well feel your heart break as Susannah Fellows plays a dying woman revisiting places from her life but the entire ensemble make this show about death a wholly life-affirming one.

Production information

Arts, London, November 7, 14

William Finn
Jamie Lloyd
Stuart MacDonald
John Barrowman, Susannah Fellows, Ray Shell, Lauren Ward, Peter Caulfield
Running time:
1hr 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014