Woody Sez, Brighton Unitarian Church, until May 14

3:25pm Tuesday 13th May 2008

By Joel Gunter

Telling the story of Texas-born folk musician Woody Guthrie, this fantastic, dynamic piece of work ranges from moments of great celebration to great sadness.

Woody suffered remarkable personal tragedy throughout his life. His sister was killed and father badly burned in house fires, his mother succumbed to Huntingdon's Chorea not long after.

These events make for poignant interludes in the performance, their impact on the young Woody conveyed with a convincing but not overwrought sense of melancholy. Not to be dwelled on though, they are outweighed by emphatic, joyful performances of Woody's songs and scenes from his musical and political experiences. The players seamlessly interweave narrative, sketch and song with irrepressible exuberance, effortlessly exchanging instruments.

Helen Russell accounts for the most surprising instrumental turn in the show when she thuds away on a double bass with gusto.

Darcy Deaville transports the audience right back to a barnstorming government-camp Friday night party with her fiddle and Andy Tearstein, well, you simply have to see what he can do with two spoons, not to mention the wonderfully authentic tone of his voice. Each seems, as Woody says of one, "to play everything but golf".

Last, but certainly not least: David Lutken, who takes on the eponymous hero. Thanks to the striking black and white images hung behind the stage, even the unfamiliar are soon aware that Lutkin bears a good resemblance to Woody Guthrie.

But he by no means steals the show. His three fellow performers take on a variety of characters from Woody's life with great success and the standard of musicianship is tremendous across the board.

A real triumph, the show has all the storytelling emphasis of traditional folk with vibrant, passionate music to boot. So passionate, I suspect that had there been no audience for this afternoon's show, it would still have been performed with all the vigour and infectious enjoyment that had a full house in raptures.

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