Murder Ballad, Arts Theatre | Review

Thursday 6 October 2016

Murder Ballad
The Arts Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 5th October 2016 by Olivia Mitchell

Press nights are always exciting but the atmosphere on this particular one was more electric than normal. If you're at all in the loop with the theatre community you must have heard about Murder Ballad! It seems to have been everywhere and since little snippets were released and previews began I'd only heard good things so I was super excited to finally see the show myself. 

I'm one to encourage going into shows blind and this definitely one production to go into without looking up a synopsis. It's absolutely a show that you'll benefit from seeing with no preconceptions of the plot. All you need to know is that it follows three characters in a love triangle and a narrator who all merge into each others lives. Oh, and someone ends up dead! Intriguing right?!

The story is accompanied by a rock score which works well to give the story a sort of grounded realism. It really helps in the moments of anger and tension to build and crash and bring out every emotion on stage. This is a raw and gripping 90 minute fully-sung-through rock musical with love, darkness and death.

The cast of Murder Ballad are stellar and all give the outstanding performances you'd expect from these veterans of the stage. Kerry Ellis is a regular star of the West End and her portrayal of Sara really shows why. Her voice effortlessly glides into all the notes of this rock score. Her unique growl and rasp add a depth to the character and help to emphasise the emotions Sara feels, especially in the opening argument scene. The audience see the development of Sara's personality throughout and Kerry manages to capture all the little changes perfectly with an ease and innovativeness only seen in true stars. Her chemistry with Ramin Karimloo fills the whole room and they create a dark and believable pairing.

photo by Mark Brenner

I have been a huge fan of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for a long while now so was super excited to see her take on the deep, dark role of the narrator. Victoria's voice is on another level in this production; her sultry, beautiful tone completely fit the mysterious narrator. Not only is Victoria's voice insane but her facial expressions told a whole story of their own. No spoken or sung words were needed for Victoria to convey exactly what she was feeling, her little knowing glances into the audience conveyed 1000 words; its truly a joy to see how this lady owns the stage at all times!

Now onto the men... Ramin Karimloo is a favourite of the West End and Broadway alike with a number of huge roles under his belt. Most of his famous roles such as the Phantom and Valjean are more operatic, typical musical theatre roles so it was refreshing to see him showcase the rocky, raspy side of his voice as the dark and handsome Tom. As with Sara, we get to see a lot of character development with Tom, he goes from a young-lovesick boy to a possessive man in a short space of time and Ramin carries this transformation out with dexterity and all the nuances of the in-depth character are very clear.

Norman Bowman for me has one of the most underrated voices on the West End. He's starred in a number of shows but I personally don't hear enough about him. His voice blew me away whilst he played the role of the agreeable Michael and left me with chills at points. His character is less in depth that Ellis' and Karimloo's but he still achieves a well performed character arc.

Richard Kent's set design is innovative and adds a dimension to the show, making it exciting to watch and making you feel somewhat part of the action. The revolve cleverly highlights key moments and adds a nice flow to the show. The lighting is also very clever; from the single lightbulb on stage to the green and orange tinted lights later on; David Plater's design backs up the transitions of all the characters and heightens the tensions at the crucial points.

photo by Mark Brenner

Sam Yates' direction has created a truly wonderful piece of contemporary theatre. Although I found the show to drag a little at the beginning, it soon picked up pace and I could physically feel my heart beating at points. The fantastic cast give faultless, lifelike performances which are so refreshing to see in these days of more fantastical productions. I truly enjoyed this show and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Its a unique, lively and deadly production which ticks all the boxes for an enjoyable night out! The realistic storyline and killer soundtrack are a deadly combination, leaving you on the edge of your seat, anticipating whats to come until the very last moment in this arresting production. 

Check out Rewrite This Story's interviews with Kerry Ellis here and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt here

Murder Ballad is running at the Arts Theatre until December 3rd