Set in the early 1900s, her latest play is the fact-based story of two half-sisters, flirtatious Lucy (Sasha Frost) and unworldly, introverted Louie (Mariam Haque), who have just lost their mother and earn their keep making gloves. They sing as they work at home, making up lyrics inspired by the land, the people and the prevailing conditions of nature.
Renowned folk music collector Cecil Sharp (Simon Robson) is travelling around England on a quest to preserve folk songs that have been passed on orally across generations. When he enters the women’s lives, they are forced to reassess their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
Roxana Silbert’s direction is lean and economical, allowing the actors to define their relationships with a forensic attention to detail.
Sharp persuades the naturally gifted Louie to sing her songs to him and she is astonished that he can turn them into printed notation.
As they learn from each other, Louie becomes increasingly uncertain of Sharp’s motives in appropriating her songs for use by others, even to the point of politicising them.
Sung unaccompanied by Haque and Frost, the songs are extraordinarily affecting and Leyshon remains even-handed in her depiction.
Louie believes the songs are living entities and should die with her while Sharp thinks that recording them for posterity is culturally imperative. “The thing about you, Louie,” he says, “is that you don’t know what you know.”
Edgily enchanting and beautifully played by all, this is an exquisite gem.
Folk is at Hampstead Theatre until February 5 Tickets: 020 7722 9301