The Promise

The Promise Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Wende and the Royal Court Theatre. The Space. 7 Mar 2024


This shouldn’t really work. What is this, really? A musical? A concert? It is a jumble of musical styles from whispered ballad to Broadway tune to European chanson to hip-hop-ish-electronica-frenzy to round-the-piano singalong. But this production is in no way disjointed or muddled - it is wholly successful, bringing the opening night Space audience to its feet.


The Promise is - loosely - a song cycle that spins its way through complicated emotional territory. The production was developed at the Royal Court Theatre, a collaboration between five female playwrights, composers, and musicians, exploring what can only be expressed in song. And what a powerful expression this is. At the centre of The Promise is an extraordinarily committed performance by Dutch singer-songwriter Wende: she is compellingly versatile - her voice moving from a seductive purr to a full-throated roar to an unadorned clear bell. She is confident, nurturing, fearful, brave, confronting, rousing and raw. Sometimes she sits, still and poised, sometimes she runs laps around the band, dancing and convulsing, sometimes she climbs atop the piano and into the crowd. Wende is engaging and immediate - it feels like she is singing directly to you. She is backed by a talented and tight three-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, driven by percussion and piano. Their collaboration and communication is consistently excellent.


The Promise works so beautifully because it touches, both directly and obliquely, on sometimes messy emotional truths with precision, poetry, and an understanding that truths can be elusive and ambiguous. The songs feel like out-loud articulations of the unformed and unspoken inner dialogues that chatter away in our heads. Thematically, The Promise focusses on the feminine and the feminist. The songs explore danger and risk (“there’s a dark black pool on the edge of the island”), loneliness and isolation, birth and a sense of place, the dark constraints of suburbia, and the fear of aging and disappearing from view. Motherhood, and the choices to have or not have children, are particularly poignant, and explored with sensitivity. In one of the emotional highlights of the performance, Wende draws us all in, encouraging us to sing and repeat her gentle rousing chorus “I’m a good enough mother”. 


When Wende belts “I’m a good woman”, this is a question, a manifesto and a defiant claim all at once. And, when she murmurs “It’s not light yet, but it’s getting there” more and more softly at the close of this wonderful production, there is a palpable sense of renewal and hope.


John Wells


When: 7 March - 10 March

Where: The Space

Bookings: Closed