Monday, 7 November 2016

Murder Ballads

We're returning from Central London where we've been watching the much-hyped Murder Ballads at the Arts Theatre. I didn't much like being in that particular theatre. It's the first time we've been there since Beyond the Fence, and upon entering, I was instantly bombarded with brutal and deeply painful memories. I'm almost relieved to report that the theatre is being pulled down.

...But enough about that...

Murder Ballads is one of those shows which feels like it's had a marketing campaign which targets the right sort of audience and promotes the type of show that it actually is. It has a ludicrously stellar cast which features some of the coolest, brightest stars in British musical theatre, including Kerry Ellis, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Ramin Karimloo. It's a rock show, and the cast are going big on the growling pipes to the extent that they give the impression of dangerously shredded vocal cords! As Philip (who came with us) said afterwards, "have a salt-water gargle, dear."

It was a very classy production. The band is excellent. The set is simple but beautifully appointed. And all the performances are first-rate. The songs serve their purpose with some very interesting harmonic shifts. The choral writing is glorious, with crunchy chords up the wazoo...

The issue I had with the piece was that I genuinely didn't give a shit about the characters on the stage. It was one of those psychological, four-hander musicals like Next To Normal, that occasionally escape their off-Broadway prisons and hit wider audiences. This genre of musical routinely depicts unlikable people doing unlikable things in a world which isn't particularly high stakes. In this sort of piece, no one really cares if an unpleasant person kills an equally unpleasant person - which is basically the thrust of the Murder Ballad narrative - and the audience leave the theatre wondering what they were meant to have experienced.

The cast did a brilliant job of posturing their way around the stage, all too-cool-for-school, in their preposterously high-heeled shoes and leather trousers, but ultimately, though the experience was engulfing and ticked very many boxes, I just feel a bit, well... underwhelmed. Nothing moved me. Very little truly excited me. Hamilton-Barritt and Karimloo are true stars: deeply alluring creatures that you simply can't take your eyes off. But the story was just so... well, dull. Ultimately I don't know why anyone would bother setting that story to music. And there was so much snogging on stage that even that started to wear a bit thin. Yeah, I get it, these two characters have great sex. Now surprise me... please!

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