Sunday, 27 January 2013

Blues in the Night - review

Written by: Tom Woods (@Thomas_E_Woods)

Where did Woods watch it?
The Last Refuge (Peckham), London
Was Woods won over?

Being someone who by and large has never been a particular fan of either Blues or Jazz music, Blues in the Night was always going to have its work cut out in order to impress. But impress it did. If you are into either Blues or the 1930’s time period, stop reading for a moment and buy a ticket.

In order to get a sense of the show, particular mention must be made of the set. Sean Turner has done a wonderful job, turning the theatre into a 1930’s cabaret club. There are tables littering the auditorium with chairs for the audience, and a live band on stage in front of which several numbers take place. Around the outskirts of the room are the three dressing rooms of the female characters; the girl with a date (Dani Copperstone), the woman of the world (Emily Bevan), the lady of the road (Rosalind James), and the bar, propping up the one male character; the man in the saloon (Duane Gooden). Everything from the red and brown colour pallet of the set to costumes work together to give the audience the sense of being in a cabaret bar 1930’s Chicago.

It is something of a curious show, in that there is no, or at least very little spoken dialogue. In essence these relationships between the three characters serve purely as a framing device to set up a selection of blues numbers -26 in total- some sung on stage, others sung in the characters dressing rooms. The songs come very quickly one after another, some blending into each other, and it feels that the show is moving quite quickly given most of the songs are relatively slow, smooth numbers. Vocals are all pretty strong, though Rosalind James steals the show with some very powerful numbers, and Emily Bevan comes into her own with a very sombre penultimate song that is delivered with such sincerity that it could be a finale all on its own. It is a shame that a few of the lines were lost due to audio levels; the band at times plays a bit too loudly and a few microphones wouldn’t go amiss.

The atmosphere is almost wonderful. But for a show that goes so far to make the audience feel immersed in this world, it stops a bit too short. The actors, whilst doing stage numbers do come and dance at the tables but seemed a bit hesitant which is a shame, even when they did come forward it was seldom past the first few tables. In addition, with the atmosphere around the tables and delectable pre-show themed drinks, it might have been nice to have waiters discreetly taking drinks orders through the show and delivering to the tables. Admittedly, this would then turn the show more into a blues night than a musical, and maybe that is not the point - but this is a musical that would potentially lend itself well to such immersion.

Blues in the Night certainly delivers an enjoyable evening. How much you get from it may well depend on whether you like the music on offer, but for atmosphere alone it is well worth a look at. Even if it is holding back a bit you will struggle to find a more immersive 1930’s Blues night.

This production runs until 9 February 2013. 

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