Murder Ballad

Date 26th March 2022
Society NK Theatre Arts
Venue Forum Theatre, Romiley
Type of Production Musical
Director Paul Wilson
Musical Director Ceri Graves

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Author: Kevin Proctor

Ye olde love triangle returns, this time as the centrepiece of a rock chamber musical that premiered Off-Broadway in 2013 and has now made its way to Romiley! It’s not uncommon for groups within our innovative district to produce such unknown works, I struggle to hide my delight whenever I inform the wider NODA family of productions I’m attending – like this one – which are usually responded to with “I’ve never heard of that” or “none of my groups have ever done that!” I’m always immensely proud of us, as a district, at how experimental and progressive so many of our groups dare to be, it makes exciting and provoking theatre.

 

This piece, ‘Murder Ballad’, a four hander with a five piece (on stage) band requires ripe and zealous lungs to get through a single performance, and thankfully they could be found in the supreme cast of this sung-through rock musical as Nick Ward, Heather Schofield, Matt Corrigan and Selina Adams create a display of vocal fireworks to tell an otherwise vanilla story.

 

Although I’d never seen this piece before, nor ever heard of it being produced locally, I do recall hearing about a production of it some years ago with Kerry Ellis in it. The score and ‘feel’ of this one act piece had moments that pulled from Brecht’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’, Larson’s ‘Rent’ and Sheik’s ‘Spring Awakening’...there were even brief moments when I sensed inspirations coming through from ‘The Last Five Years’ and even a glimmer of ‘Chicago’. It’s an edgy evening at the theatre but Paul Wilson’s direction, with a semi-immersive presentation, helps no end to make it as engaging as possible. 75% (give or take) of the action took place amongst dinner theatre tables with audience members sat around them, the cast regularly took a vacant seat at one of the tables and delivered their ‘bit’ from there or simply waited there for their next cue. We were sat on the tiered block so felt safe enough that we wouldn’t be interfered with though did feel slightly separated from what was going on. I found it more of a struggle to connect with what was presented up on the stage as that was almost adding another layer of separation which I get the impression was the opposite of what the director intended.  

 

Vocals, for the most part, from all four were impressive and showcased excellent knack and ability though the core material didn’t quite ignite, I don’t believe this to be any fault of the players or creative team as it was evident how invested and enthralled with the production each of them were, it’s the repetitive and – dare I say – rather flavourless score that seemed to be holding it back. I was wholly invested in the performers and their interpretations as it was a very refreshing piece of theatre to see and, unusually for a show of this genre, doesn’t depend on a screaming tenor (something I was thankful for), but is more reliant on the sultry bass and an amalgamation of sexed up jazz/pop but Rock Musical fans would have been satisfied with some thirst-quenching rock belts which do get an airing too, it’s just not overloaded with them as pre-empted, thankfully!

 

There’s no denying that the piece was tastefully and meaningfully directed, less Hollywood romance and more human actuality, which made the scenes more real, raw and - pardon the pun - bare.

I appreciated the layout, it was a good idea to have the action amongst the audience and what happened on the ‘floor’ around the tables worked far more effectively than what happened up on the stage. The sense of intimacy could have been better achieved if everything wasn’t so spread out, I don’t believe we needed the projections, sound effects / wild tracks would have sufficed to let us know where we were and there was ample space for all of the action to happen in front of the stage. The band, led by Ceri Graves, were (kind of) visible throughout but got the impression they were trying to tuck themselves away, or wishing that they were.     

 

Although the story of a spurned husband and an adulterous wife is nothing new it’s the blistering performances which manage to help forgive most of its sins.