Giles Terera is a Londoner who lives in Soho. Through his window he documented the past year. Seasons and lockdown restrictions came and went, noise and activity rose and fell. This brilliant actor whose credits include “Rosmersholm,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and an award-winning Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” turned his sharp eye and ear to the world, creating a masterpiece.
A deep, rich timbre delivers twelve songs self-accompanied either on crimson guitar or bare foot at grand piano. An hour passes in minutes as his London, a city of inequality and opportunity, hope and despair, always passionate and changing unfolds.
“That’s The Matter” is a chilling, thrilling introduction to his world. Hard-working members of the black community are deported, left to deteriorate mentally, and murdered without investigation – London’s bridge falling and failing to reach their side of the divide.
For those on that bank, a life-assuring beat encourages all to “Be Good To Yourself” even if distracted from an intention to change the world as lockdown life intervenes. Terera becomes more specific in “The Ballad of Pasadena” as Leo meets a writer of that name in a coffee shop and demonstrates the truth of the previous number.
Three floors of misery, “The Flats” (with most lyric by James Poole – the only song not written completely by Terera) is a particularly fine story of social housing and the fact “rainbows don’t go there,” nobody cares about the struggling inhabitants, a place to which the singer is not going back.
Faith is explored further as the razor-edged lyric of “Don’t You Want To Get Holy” encourages Christian, Muslim and Buddhist alike to consider what the icons of those faiths really hoped their followers would be.
From religious to secular society, witnessing the inequality of a police response to a racially aggravated attack outside his window causes Terera to remind the black community “You Have The Right To Remain.” And that right, to be “Lin-Manuel” is underlined.
Far more introverted, but still Soho, “Shadowlark” on guitar is an upbeat question – who is that bird in spring? What is the metaphor? It’s a delicious thought to explore. “Nikki,” a song about the black female experience is even more personal. Dedicated to his sister, it is raw, personal, and expressed with love.
Still in romantic vein, “You and Me Only” about love in the Charing Cross Road, is a simple yet effective questioning of the subject.
The final third of the show turns angrier, sharper, bitter. “What Kind of Man Are You” features a particularly striking instrumental venting feelings which must be suppressed on finding the colour of your skin denies you entry to a nightclub.
“A Picture of Britain” celebrates and commemorates Gambian-British photographer Khadija Mohammadou Saye’s life and death in Grenfell Tower. A fast, angry rhythm ensures that her memory will always pulsate so long as her song is heard.
Finally, “These Things” is a Lennon-like ballad of hardened softness pondering the advent of a better future. The final words in a (sadly unidentified) African language have the power to move just in their cadence – as does Terera as he faces the camera a final time to end the performance.
We need theatres to re-open soon if for no other reason than to have somewhere this work can be expanded into the global solid gold success it would undoubtedly be. A show with the atmosphere of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” but a thousand times more original and satisfying in its truth; personal and uncontrived. Meanwhile an album release as the show is expanded will be welcome. Before any of that happens, however, no fan of Terera, musical theatre, cabaret performance or London itself should miss the opportunity of streaming this so that they can say, “I saw it first.”
Photo credit: Dan Poole. Used by kind permission.