Naomi Ferguson: Songs My Mother Taught Me

St James Theatre 1st Floor Gallery, Wellington

10/12/2009 - 10/12/2009

TelstraClear Club, Christchurch

05/08/2009 - 06/08/2009

Christchurch Arts Festival 2009

Production Details

A story told with songs.

In 1972 a middle-class girl came to the University of Canterbury and found a world where academic study collided with social upheaval. She became a hippy, dabbled in the excesses of the 70s and emerged a changed woman.

Dark humour prevails as Naomi Ferguson relives the sights and sounds of her mother’s world in 1970s Christchurch with Songs My Mother Taught Me.

5 August, 5.30pm
6 August, 5.30pm
TelstraClear Club
GA $20.00
Conc $15.00
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Wellington show:
St James ‘In Cabaret’ season
First Floor Gallery
St James Theatre
Thursday 10 DEcember 2009
8pm (doors open from 6.30pm) 


1hr 20 mins

Gorgeous, golden voice

Review by Vicki Thorpe 11th Dec 2009

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your own stories on stage. This show is one for Kiwi baby boomers who found freedom in those first years at university in the 60s and 70s. The grungy old house, first love, the music, the drugs, the motor bikes, the rock festival ….. mixed flatting! Naomi Ferguson’s one-woman show, Songs My Mother Taught Me, seemed to strike a chord with many members of the audience last night. 

Ferguson tells the story of Cilla, a teenage ingénue who throws herself enthusiastically into student life in her first year away from home. Ferguson has woven well-chosen songs of the 60s and 70s into this entertaining and well-constructed tale about coming of age, opening the show with a wistful rendition of ‘Where have all the Flowers Gone?’ from guitarist Graham Wardop and pianist Murray Wood, and closing with the more gutsy and knowing ‘I am Woman’.

Ferguson is a superb musician with a gorgeous, golden voice. Every song is beautifully sung with complete assurance and stylistic control. She seems to have a real affinity with Leonard Cohen’s songs and her performance of ‘Suzanne’ was a highlight for me. She rises to the challenge of representing multiple characters with some believable and often very funny characterisation, particularly that of Cilla and her boyfriend, the chauvinistic Johnnie. Wardrop and Wood are the consummate supporting duo: subtle, inventive, stylish and responsive.

Songs My Mother Taught Me suits a cabaret setting. The venue, the upstairs lounge of the St James Theatre, works surprisingly well as a cabaret, albeit with a slightly corporate/conference-y feel. The sound was superbly managed, despite the occasional microphone glitch. From where I was sitting, (near the back), Ferguson, Wardrop and Wood were in perfect musical balance.

Ferguson’s larger than life delivery (sometimes a little too emphatic) and impeccable diction ensured that every word, phrase and gesture was very clear. I enjoyed this show. It’s a shame that this was a one-off performance and I hope there will be more opportunities for Ferguson, Wardrop and Wood to perform it in Wellington.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Editor December 12th, 2009

Not to be confused with Michelanne Forster's play with music, Songs My Mother Taught Me (named after the famous Dvorak song for soprano).

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From naïve to hippy to wah-wah crystallised in song

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 05th Aug 2009

Graham Wardrop and Murray Wood enter, settle at their instruments, and play a few bars of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"  On comes Naomi Fergusson in a charmingly naff 70s muslin smocktop, flowered hairband and Judy Durham wig.  The audience applauds in delighted recognition. 

She opens her monologue, a character piece based on her own mother’s experience, with the information that she (Cilla) is 17, and away from home for the first time, staying in a student hostel at the University of Canterbury in the 1970s.

Then unfolds the story of Cilla’s misspent year and a half, during which she slides uncritically and deliciously into free-thinking, moderate amounts of sex, drugs and alcohol, the Ngaruawahia Festival and some rather unrewarding relationships and missed opportunities. 

The story, such as it is, is bookended by Cilla’s arrival in the hostel, with all the freedom and adventure that represents, and the (surely naïve) embracing of an evangelical Christian-style renewal some time into the second year, when Cilla has been through a certain amount of fatigue and disillusionment and has dropped out of University.

There are seamless segues into songs which crystallise the moments Cilla is going through, or illustrate an aspect of them:  "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday", "You Can’t Always Get What You Want", "Travelling Lady", "Everybody Must Get Stoned, "I Really Think that We Can Make it" and Leonard Cohen’s sublime "Suzanne" are just some of the great 70s songs Ferguson delivers. 

The naïve, permanently smiling near-child of her acting persona plays second fiddle to a mature singer with a fine voice and the ability to cover styles including jazz, folk, blues and country.  There is an occasional blip as Ferguson moves into her upper register, but overall she is in great command of a wide range of music.

Wardrop and Wood provide beautifully timed instrumental support, including some subtle medleys and riffs.  They do not ever take centre stage, but their expert ease with the range of music being performed adds to the comfort and elegance of the evening.

Ferguson’s monologue is amusing and engaging, but also a little frustrating.  The irony of the writing makes it clear that Cilla is gullible, naïve and deluded about lots of things, including Johnny, the guy she is still with at the end.  Her experience of release from a bad year by entering the wah-wah of evangelical Christians may be true to the facts, but it doesn’t develop her character much or leave one feeling her journey has taken her anywhere new.

However, it has taken her to lots of musical and thereby audience-pleasing places.  The show was very well-received by a fairly mature audience, with a lot of recognition hilarity.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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