Tara Snelling

at 09:55 on 24th Aug 2018

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We are instructed by the technician at the start of the show to save applause for the end, and certainly this performance feels too peaceful to interrupt. Joanna Wallfisch appears, looking ethereally out beyond the audience. She addresses us throughout the show, but her mind is elsewhere – taking us back through the experience of her 1,150 mile cycle ride towards L.A., performing shows with just her ukulele and a loop pedal along the way.

There’s something very relaxing as she talks us through her adventure in a steady, meditative voice, which has the soothing tone of a yoga instructor. From friendly lifeguards to exchanges with fellow travellers, she takes us on a tour through the range of people she meets. Both driven by the sense of adventure and the need to find an inner peace, it becomes clear this journey is both mental and physical. She describes riding on a bike as like “life zooming into a single focus, a single place – the present”. It is impossible to not imagine the trees and people rolling past to the accompaniment of her gentle strums.

Her voice is gorgeous and honeyed, like a breath of fresh air. The harmonisations gel beautifully with herself, and the echoing effect of her dulcet tones on the loop pedal is a beautiful substitute for the natural reverberation of caves and canyons. The level of precision throughout the performance is impressive, and every song has a very different backing track, performed live. The melodica and kazoo are beautiful additions to her sets, and in particular I enjoy the interlude of the kazoo. Vocal accompaniment such as whistling to mimic birdsong is also particularly nice.

The stories are quite long, so if a higher intensity show is more your thing, this might not be for you. The pace of the show is meandering with no real structure; I enjoy the songs more than the dialogue sections, which can sometimes be less structured. But then maybe that’s part of it – that not every story has a definite organisation, or resounding answer.

With many performances being very visually motivated, it was exciting to take an auditory journey. Transformative, tranquil and soulful, Wallfisch beautifully explains the joy of seeing new things, and perhaps the reason why so many people love the Fringe: “it is a chance for [t]he world to answer questions you never asked before”.

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Beatrix Swanson Scott

at 19:18 on 25th Aug 2018

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In the summer of 2016, London-born US-based singer-songwriter Joanna Wallfisch cycled over 1.100 miles from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California. The cost of touring concerts the traditional way – hotel rooms, flights, petrol – had been adding up, and she was hungry for adventure. So, on a bit of a whim, she strapped a tent, her ukulele and a few other necessities to a bike and set off on a five-week cycling and camping trip down the West Coast of the United States – ‘The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle’.

This inspired show chronicles Wallfisch’s journey through the medium of her own songs, interspersed with first person narration. In a single spotlight in a small dark room, Wallfisch transports her audience. What she creates with little more than a ukulele, a microphone, a loop pedal, a melodica and her own beautifully tranquil, Joni Mitchell-esque voice, is magical – her journey of freedom, clarity and simplicity is brought alive affectingly. Allowing the audience to escape a claustrophobic black box room for a fantasy of sun and sea, redwoods and rivers, camp grounds and chance encounters, is no mean feat, and yet Wallfisch pulls it off beautifully.

Is it a bit self-indulgent, a bit gentle? Perhaps. But it would be almost cynical to say so. For those with the mental stamina to follow its meandering pace and sustained energy level, this piece is very rewarding. Small, beautifully crafted pieces of theatre are not as prevalent at the Fringe as one might suppose, and Joanna Wallfisch creates a warm oasis of calm in the hectic atmosphere of the Fringe Festival for her audience members.

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