Co-founder of Gagglebabble Theatre Company Lucy Rivers has created a heady evening of music, drama, and manic entertainment in her story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ellis’ story is one of utter heartache at every turn, which in Rivers’ rendition at least is endured with feistiness and glamour.
Set in a 1950s “dive” bar come recording studio, the set has influences of an American speakeasy (or at least the Hollywood representation of one) – the intimacy, the bluesy aesthetic, and booze all attributing factors. Mark Bailey has done an excellent job here in thinking about how the narrative moves from the dramatic to the comedic to the downright tragic. The design provides various platforms and levels in the small space of the Other Room, in order for Rivers to set up tropes she can come back again and again– creating narrative hooks in the wonderful mayhem of the performance. Examples of this include the recording booth for private moments between Ruth and David, to the band equipment box that Rivers stands upon for the more dramatic statements of the piece. This is complimented by Katy Morison’s clever lighting design, which has to deal with the speedy fluidity of the piece.
The narrative is very much dependant on and crafted out of the music played by Rivers’ sensational band The Bad Mothers (Tom Cottle, Dan Messore, Aidan Thorne). The music goes from soul to country, which supports Rivers’ wonderfully soulful voice. It would be apt enough to call the show a ‘music play’ if you need to label it but I often worry that labelling can turn some people off things they should really be seeing. Think of Hedwig and the Angry Inch meets Greg Wohead; Sinners Club has the rawness and pain of Hedwig and the brilliant story telling quality of Wohead’s work.
What we get of Ruth Ellis’ story is mainly in the songs, which is punctuated by dialogue with the invisible David Blakely and interactions with the audience. These moments of interaction provide much of the comedy of the night but it is never used in a tacky or abrupt way that you often get with less thought through interactions. This includes interactions with and between the band members, all of who are brilliant in their moment to moment delivery.
Under the direction of Titas Halder this hazy evening’s entertainment holds together beautifully, which in itself is a fine achievement because of the sheer amount of things going on. The result is that we feel that we are spending the evening with Ruth herself in her mixed up world.
Tom Cottle and Lucy Rivers
Apart from writing and composing this piece, Lucy Rivers puts in a virtuoso performance. The moment she arrives in the room she exudes attitude and confidence. Her embodiment of Ruth evolves and aptly straddles brokenness and triumph. Rivers is stunning in this.
Apart from its storytelling qualities this show is pure entertainment and is as good as a gig as it is theatre.
Co-production by The Other Room/Theatre Clwyd/Gagglebabble
Photography Kieran Cudlip
Until February 24
We have a pair of tickets to Sinners Club at The Other Room and a bottle of house wine courtesy of Porter’s for one reader for just £25. Be quick if you want this – just email firstname.lastname@example.org