Woody Sez


I was invited to this show and it was excellent. I am not “your regular theatre goer” but I do get to a few shows a year due to friends being in the plays, or other nights out organised by friends. It’s usually excellent. I have been chastised for making the “subjective” point that the production of 11 and 12 at the Barbican last year, roundly praised in the press, was boring as all heck. I did make the point at the time that given I’m not “your regular theatre goer”, it was perhaps a bit high for me, and that there are bands I would pay to see play one note every five or so minutes for a couple of hours, and be riveted.

The Woody Sez thing is pertinent in a few ways right now, given the continued popularity of Folk in its many forms, and the frequent mentioning (often plagiarising) of Woody Guthrie by many of today’s artists. I had only a layman’s  knowledge of the story of the man and his work, and this was a very entertaining way of getting an insight, and a chance to listen to a bunch of his work beyond This Land is Your Land, The Car etc…

I made a few observations, which I will share with all four of you reading this.

As this was a press night it was full of them all jibber jabbering away so when the play starts unannounced giving no-one the opportunity to shut up and listen, it feels like a proper London gig, and I wonder if the few still chatting away standing with their backs to the crowd will ever sit down and watch. Thankfully they do. Authentic if nothing else. Authentic again when feeble attempts at a clap-along fizzle out seconds after they’ve started. It IS London after all. (And granted it’s in a very warm seated theatre too)

I was concerned that the musicianship might not be as good as it could be given perhaps that these are actors and not musicians and I felt snobby thinking this, but they were excellent, all four of them, and they’d got the bluesy attitude of carry-on-at-all-costs-when-making-a-bum-note down pat. I wonder if some of the holier than thou types in the folk world might pick holes in this aspect and I hope not, as it would surely be to miss the point.

What follows is a life story of Woody Guthrie told through his songs. His early life, move to California, the Great Depression and him finding his voice. His was a troubled life as you might expect, and yet he maintains this positivity, and humour through it all. There’s a great quote towards the end where he says: If we lose the the songs we have (love songs, political songs, dance songs etc) then we are apt to lose the world with it. He was very keen on learning about culture through songs, and a country’s history.

I wonder what he would make of the way things are today, with every musician on earth seemingly clamouring to align their art with whatever film or product, and the homogeneity of the output that this leads to.

Anyhow, it’s excellent, you should go.



2 responses to “Woody Sez

  • Georgina

    I am a fan of experimental theatre and had previously been deeply impressed by Peter Brook’s work. His version of Carmen was outstanding. That production of 11 and 12, however, was tedious in the extreme. I had real trouble staying awake in it.

  • Brian Hook

    Thanks for your insights, i produced the London run with Mary Cosette.

    Unless we do here, the work songs, the war songs, the love songs and the dance songs of all the people, everywhere we are most apt to loose the peace, and this whole world right along with it – Woody Guthrie.

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