The thing about the kind of classic folk music composed and performed by Seraphina D’Arby and Tallulah Brown, members of the band TRILLS, is that their harmonies aren’t always perfectly harmonious. They move through clashes and dissonance as they rise and fall, and that makes the ultimate resolution all the more satisfying. Such music must pass through something a little harsh before it can reach something beautiful. And that makes their earthy but delicate melodies the perfect match for Songlines, a sweet and delicate show about a boy and a girl in the English countryside. It sounds simple, but like a song, it’s all in the details.
Brown, who is also the playwright, brings sweetness and sincerity to the story of city girl Stevie and country mouse Stan, the bad girl and the nerd, the neglected daughter and the bullied son. She doesn’t fancy him at first, but—well, you know. But by telling the story largely through Stevie’s eyes (though Stan also gets his say), the specificity of her voice makes it all feel fresh and wholly engaging.
Fanta Barrie and Joe Hurst embody teenage awkwardness without overplaying it, and they and the design team evoke a whole world with the lightest touches: the stories of rural dangers lurking in the woods and Roman and Viking history blurred into present-day beaches, Stan’s coolest t-shirt, the patches on Stevie’s backpack and the fairy lights on her wall, a pitch-perfect grandma-ish carpet and wood-panelled back wall (design by Lizzy Leech).
Stevie and Stan trade off narrating directly to the audience, sometimes underscored by the TRILLS duo. Other times, the songs come between or even in the midst of scenes, chorus-like commentary on and elaboration of the characters’ feelings. It’s neither a musical nor gig theatre, but something in between. The music could perhaps stand to be more fully integrated, though the one instance of actual in-world song is entirely lovely.
Being teenagers, Stevie and Stan recognise that a single moment can change your entire life. A single well-chosen song can be the difference between bliss and soul-rending devastation. One misunderstanding, or miscommunication, or just bad day can tear a friendship apart. Losing a friendship can, in turn, be the end of the world. But set to such gentle music, this way of experiencing life doesn’t seem excessive or hyperbolic.
It’s agonising, of course, because being a teenager is torturous. No one trusts you or believes you or understands you, and you don’t trust or believe or understand yourself. But it’s also, in its way, exquisite—to feel so deeply, to reach so fumblingly but unabashedly for connection. It’s sort of like living in a song.
Songlines is on until 26 August 2018 at Pleasance Courtyard. Click here for more details.