Busking It is a thoroughly personal, theatrical dive into the experiences of Danusia Samal as a busker in the Underground, telling her story through impersonations, songs and storytelling. She talks and sings about the people she has met over ten years, that have shaped experiences of love, loss, fear, anger and friendship. The 60 minute show takes the format of short bursts of song interjecting speech – all adding to the chronological narrative.
The fact that this is Samal’s true story works in her favour. She is very much the star of her show – barely taking pause to breath over the hour – and undeniably the story is a good one. Though a little corny at times, the emotion behind each song is visibly real, the descriptions of every person so vivid you feel them in the room. At a number of points, Samal was definitely fighting back tears, which you can’t help but be moved by.
We delve deeply into the characters from memorable encounters. This, for me, is where Samal shines in her ability to flip between characters, who are brought from memory with accent, posture, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. We meet in detail half a dozen members of the public: her father figure, an old Boxer, a lonely man with two Iron Maiden tickets, a Spanish woman supposedly suffering from amnesia and a threatening man. But Samal also confidently and convincingly voices the diverse tongues of passers-by. She seems to have mastery over an Encyclopedia of accents.
The unwell Spanish woman, nicknamed “Esperience”, is a recurring face. Extremely likeable and comical as she feigns having Amnesia, steals the Microphone and delivers some valuable advice.
I felt a little mixed about the music. The three present a mix of half-spoken, half-sung jolly melodies, covers and acoustic Indie-Pop songs written by Samal herself. Aside from being at times too cheesy for my taste, I felt that a bulk of the set does not suit her vocal range. As the story progresses, I could buy into the lyrics more and more, if I allowed myself to drift back to my high-school fan-girl days, but I was not moved by the vocals. She does, however, do some interesting covers.
Gnawing at me throughout, was the question of the relationship and role of the musicians. Adam Cross and Joe Archer on guitar, box-drum and saxophone produce some nice musical accompaniment, but I was unsure whether we are to see them as part of the busking act or just musical accompaniment to the show? When, on occasion, Samal interacts with them – sometimes cutting them off because ‘she doesn’t want to do that song’ – I could not tell whether these were live changes or done for dramatic effect. Both musicians looked confused and uncomfortable about it, only making me feel confused and uncomfortable. The same awkwardness surrounds the brief moments that the musicians speak. The musicians either need to engage confidently with the theatricality or remain as background accompaniment.
Overall, Busking It is a simple, moving show with a beautiful st
ory. It borders singer-songwriter gig and theatre. A brave show for Samel to put together, though in my opinion, with her as the lead, singing her own songs about her story, it all felt a little self-centred.
Busking It played the Soho Theatre until 2nd November.