After a stellar start and a bumpy descent in her music career, Emjay has become disenchanted with music, her once true joy. Now she teaches singing to all sorts of characters looking to find a way to tell their story in song. One day a special student arrives and re-awakens the love Emjay thought she’d lost.
Set amongst the cute chaos of a local community hall (designed by Brigette Thorn) Emjay (Genevieve Lemon) is instantly funny in her grumpy, ex-rock star cynic kind of way. She wonders how she got here, to another early morning teaching no-hopers how to sing to the best of their ability.
Today, an especially unusual student steps through the door. Jenny (Kate Mannix) is dressed rather like a bag-lady, she works at the Cat Protection Society, and she has always, always wanted to take singing lessons. The only problem is that Jenny has literally lost her voice, but with Emjay’s help, she hopes to get to the bottom of her secret voice and be able to enjoy singing for herself again.
The contrast between Emjay and Jenny in their approaches to singing is a lovely reminder to not let go of joy. Particularly for artists, with the pressure to achieve industry accolades and accumulate public success, a character like Jenny gives you permission to create for the love of it.
Lemon and Mannix are a wonderful duo, complementing each other and finding balance in each other’s journey. Lemon is as sceptical and jaded as Mannix is optimistic but, critically, not naive. Jenny has survived deep trauma but it hasn’t darkened her desire to sing.
Mannix plays Jenny with cleaver nuance, finding a clarity in her eccentricities that humanises and charms rather than ridiculed or alienates her. Jenny’s goals are pretty simple, it’s that her path to Emjay and beyond has been incredibly difficult. When she does finally find her freedom, it’s a real Susan Boyle moment as she belts out her story.
The uncovering of Emjay’s backstory with flashbacks to the 1980s rock scene was familiar but no less engaging. Lemon’s resignation in her character is recognisable for anyone whose life hasn’t quite gone to plan.
Joanna Weinberg’s direction as the writer, composer, and original source of Emjay’s character, is gentle and realistic of the meeting of these two women’s lives. There are quiet reflective moments in silly montage sequences of oral and breathing exercises. Great expanses of time are compressed in this production with great care and consideration.
Based on true events, Jenny and Emjay’s story is uplifting and heart-warming with just enough cheesiness in a student becoming the true teacher kind of way. The Secret Singer is a gentle approach to simple story telling that touches on the core of what we all want.
The Secret Singer is running at the Eternity Playhouse from August 28th – September 9th.