A round trip through some musical classics

Review by Paul Nelson


THERE really ought to be a muse of Brilliance, but failing that, we will have to make do with Euterpe (music and lyric poetry) and Thalia (muse of comedy) who collectively threw a handful of glittering dust over Ports of Call, which has just premiered at the Wimbledon Studio Theatre.

This tiny show is presented by the Wimbledon Studio under the watchful and talented eye of Jonathan Kennedy, and features three consummate artists. They are Gertrude Thoma, a singer and actress from Augsburg in Germany, William Ludwig, a singer and actor also from Germany, and Nicholas Bloomfield, a London born composer who accompanies them on piano.

Directed by Boris Boskovic these three present an amusing evening of songs written by such diverse persons as Brecht, Weill, Brel and Sondheim.

I have to confess that the choice of numbers did not particularly surprise me, I am up to here with Brecht, Weill, Brel and Sondheim, the numbers are now included in so many compilations that they are becoming as familiar as the Beatles' output. So far, they have not been dinned into us in pubs but the time is nigh.

What sets this show apart is this group's fresh approach to songs that are now becoming hackneyed.

For example, Surabaya Johnny from Weill and Brecht's musical play Happy End is given a poignant rendition by Thoma, which heralds the interval, after which it is then repeated by Ludwig as a gay song, in English. 'Take that pipe out of your gob you dog', becomes a song about a man who abuses his male lover by neglect and is constantly watching the telly. This translation is such a strange and surprising deviation that it becomes an enormously amusing revelation. The translation is by Neil Bartlett, Nicholas Bloomfield and Robin Whitmore, and they deserve all praise.

The tango from The Threepenny Opera is given a beautiful performance by the singers, who impersonate the musical instrument, normally a guitar or zither, in the coda to the chorus, with their voices. I found that a particular delight.

As for the ports of call, Amsterdam, Surabaya and Bilbao seem to be the only ones mentioned, but of course there is Pirate Jenny, the song, again from the Threepenny Opera, in which a drudge in an hotel dreams of blasting everyone in the town she hates from the face of the earth from her ship in the bay. In a splendid translation by Frank McGuinness, the song remains as faithful to the original as translation will allow.

Thoma is excellent. She has a voice that must be heard on a much wider spectrum than she will get in the Fringe. Ludwig is equally excellent though in quite a different way as may be expected. Both have a sense of comedy timing that brought the audience alive initially and kept them alive throughout the evening.

The production is to tour. When the dates are announced, indielondon will naturally carry a bulletin of them. So my suggestion is keep your eyes glued to this website so that you do not miss this truly uplifting and amusing evening. It is well worth it.

Main picture shows, from left to right, Nicholas Bloomfield, Gertrude Thoma and William Ludwig.

Ports of Call. A revue mainly with the words and music of Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Brel, Stephen Sondheim and Kurt Weill. Directed by Boris Boskovic. Produced by the Wimbledon Studio.
With Nicolas Bloomfield, William Ludwig and Gertrude Thoma.
Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon. 020 8540 0362.