Verismo Theatre’s Departures: A Song-Cycle for All of Us

Verismo Theatre are a glorious surprise in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme.

Verismo Theatre are a glorious surprise in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme. Formed in Sheffield earlier this year by writer Joe Bunce and composer Matthew Malone, the company takes its name from a nineteenth century Italian operatic movement, which shunned the traditional tropes of royalty and prestige, and concentrated instead on the lives of ordinary people.

Similarly, Departures is a 21st-century song cycle about all of us. The “normal” ones. The people commuting to and from work and home, living our lives without recourse to riches or societal scandals, yet constantly plugged into a changing and fast-paced world.

A true-to-life song cycle

Departures tells the story of eight strangers standing at a railway platform as their train is, as always, delayed. As time passes, they put down their newspapers and smartphones, and begin to interact with one another – sharing their secrets, hopes, fears, and loneliness. 

The source material for the show was collected from individuals across a diverse range of British communities. During each interview, the company asked the question ‘What is the biggest challenge in your life at the moment?’. 

The answers to this question were then recorded, transcribed, and adapted into songs ranging from contemporary pop, to funk, to barbershop. What’s left at the end, is a life-affirming tale featuring misogyny, mid-life crisis, depression, immigration, and the importance of human interaction. 

Music to smile by

This song cycle features an eclectic collection of well-realised and beautifully orchestrated musical styles, every one of them performed exceptionally well by the young cast. Richard Agar as the recruitment consultant who quits his job and buys an oboe – just because – is capable of real charm and humour on-stage.

Katherine Farquar’s role as sarcastic train announcer transforms beautifully in a touching composition, in which she urges the newfound friends on the platform to hold onto their community spirit.

And a personal highlight for me was “Silence”, a moving and powerful piece about an elderly man who thinks of himself as a burden, and so refuses to reach out to anyone around him. During this song, Matt Bond delivers a phenomenal classical performance to blow the audience away.

Real-life interests

The stories themselves focus on real-life struggles in the 21st-century UK – from the highly-qualified Romanian immigrant who has second thoughts about leaving her family behind, to a schoolboy struggling with depression and the feeling that he doesn’t have a valid reason to be unhappy.

The final numbers feature impressive harmonies from all of the cast, and some subtly complex arrangements by Malone. Similarly, Bunce’s lyrics morph from fast-paced and comedic tongue twisters, to emotive tales of everyday problems with a finesse that’s rare to find in someone in their early twenties. 

Departures is what the Edinburgh Fringe was made for: a young, talented company that have been given a platform on which to perform to the best of their abilities, and create something that is truly impressive. 

Keep an eye out for Bunce and Malone, because they will certainly be a pair to watch in the future. 

NB: Verismo Theatre’s Departures is being performed August 12th – 25th, at 15:40 (1 hour) at C Venues, C Cubed.