Stacey Tyler

Review: MURDER BALLAD at The Arts Theatre

Murder Ballad The idea of using a murder ballad as the basis of a musical is an unusual concept and I was interested in how this was going to to work on stage within the musical theatre format. My preconception was that although murder ballads make great 4-minute songs, how is this going to work as a 90 minute musical? I need not have worried, we are clearly told at the beginning that the story will simply follow the format of these obsessive songs, and ‘in all great murder ballads, when songs of love-gone-wrong are sung, blood must be spilled, but by who?’ So as the love story begins, I know how it must end.

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt plays the Narrator and is a perfect vehicle to help us navigate our way through the ballad. She takes us on the journey of Sara (Kerry Ellis) who lives in downtown Manhattan with her boyfriend Tom (Ramin Karimloo). Their relationship is wild, obsessive and passionate. When they eventually break up Sara meets Michael (Norman Bowman), a very sweet guy who likes poetry. She ends up getting married, having a daughter and living uptown with him. They are happy for long time, but when Sara’s mind starts to wander to Tom and the wild time they had together, there is no going back and her desire for him is as strong as before. The three become embroiled in a love triangle that can only end in despair, and perhaps, as is with the end of all Murder Ballads, with bloodshed.

The direction from Sam Yates, who was named as one of The Observers rising stars of 2014, is stunning. Using a simple staging (a revolve, projection and minimal set) the audience are able to engage instantly with the rapid developments of the story. Yates uses the space in really interesting ways and creates such beautiful imagery, his pictures really do tell a thousand words. The use of projection is getting more and more popular on the stage, and it really lifted this show and was weaved remarkably into the story it felt like a necessity rather than a good addition. By using such precision and intricate detail in every single moment the creative team have produce a show in which we are spellbound from beginning to end.

Murder Ballad had everything you could ask for from a new musical, and the fact that it has a cast of Musical Theatre royalty, there really is no reason not to go.

The entire cast are fabulous and it is due to their standing within the musical theatre industry that there isn’t a spare seat in the house. These 4 actors all show off the best of what they have to offer and its clear to see how they are experts in their field. Kerry Ellis takes the central role and creates a wonderfully tragic character. Her voice is effortless and she is the perfect choice to take the lead on these beautifully written rock songs. Ramin Karimloo is entrancing and he does not have to do much at all to command the stage every time he enters. The truth of Norman Bowman’s acting is beautiful to watch as he creates this complex character with sensitivity andthoughtfulness. Ever since I saw Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in A Chorus Line she has been my favourite musical theatre actress. She is unstoppable. Her voice has a quality to it that I have never heard before and its fantastic to listen to. She is so natural on the stage, and has a fabulously expressive face that really draws the audience in, and so is perfect in the Narrator role.

Although the story of a spurned husband and an adulterous wife is nothing new, using the murder ballad to tell the story kept the story fresh and alive. With a feel of The Last Five Years meets Chicago, Murder Ballad had everything you could ask for from a new musical, and the fact that it has a cast of Musical Theatre royalty, there really is no reason not to go.

Murder Ballad tickets