This delightful, uncomplicated show is plainly born of love: love for the folk music at its core, and a universal love for whatever place we each call home. Its style is a traditional one, but its storyline belongs firmly in the modern age. Employing gorgeous harmonies and plaintive solo songs, the three singer-musicians of Nighthawks explore themes of migration, dispersal and nationhood – all the while posing the troublesome question, is the grass always greener elsewhere?
Original compositions form the bulk of the show. Both music and lyrics elegantly evoke a range of moods, swinging back and forth between optimism and cynicism as the longing for home becomes a quest to find true meaning in life. One upbeat song praising the virtues of New York segues into an unexpectedly pessimistic conclusion, while a couple of solo numbers are thoroughly transfixing: my favourite, I think, was a delicate and poignant piece built around the futility of finding solace in food.
Although the music’s the main attraction, and many of the songs would stand up perfectly well on their own, they’re worked reasonably neatly into three parallel storylines. There’s the woman who identifies as Irish, but has never actually visited her ancestors’ land; a man, surrounded by meticulously-traced maps, who excitedly plans his own emigration; and a woman who explains how she discovered a place where she truly felt happy, yet found in the end it was a curse.
The stories do succeed in adding structure to the show – and while the Irish woman’s nostalgic monologue is a particular highlight, each of the individual tales is well enough told. But the three separate narratives feel a little disconnected; a clearer link between them would help make sense of the work as a whole. It must be said, also, that the trio are musicians more than they’re actors. The dialogue often felt stilted, and physical gestures were sometimes overstated. There’s no theatrical director credited in the programme so the solution might be as simple as bringing one on board.
Ultimately though, this is a bittersweet but feel-good performance, which deserves an emotional as well as an intellectual response. And the emotions it triggers are beautiful ones: hope, comfort, and longing. Wherever you might hail from, I think you can trust the Nighthawks’ warm-hearted music to make you feel right at home.