ComedyMusicalNorth WestReview

Murder Ballads – Waterside Arts Centre, Manchester

Writer: Gerry Smyth

Director: Ellie Hurt

Adapted from the Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

According to one internet source the body count on the 1996 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Murder Ballads is 76. A high body count for even the bloodiest of horror films, let alone a near hour long album! So, it may come as bit of a surprise that this classic album is the inspiration for the latest production from The B Collective.

Set in O’Malley’s Bar in the town of Millhaven in 1882, this town is as wild as the West ever got and makes the town of Tombstone look like a creche. We are told the tragic story of the Lee family, and how one horrific night’s events lead us on a journey of jealousy, lust, madness and murder…lots and lots of murder!

There is a cast of four for the production, with writer Gerry Smyth playing the part of Wild West veteran of the Alamo, and Tom Wilson as our gravel voiced narrator. With guitars in hand, both men act as our minstrels and guides for this bloody tale. All the other parts are played by Thomas Galashan and Laura Connolly, with Galashan mainly featuring as the psychotic killer Stagger Lee, whilst Connolly seamlessly transitions between lovelorn teenager and the Western equivalent of the femme fatale.

Smyth is on good form as the nonsensical old timer spouting gibberish throughout, whilst Wilson is charming as our narrator with more than a little twinkle in the eye. Both do a fantastic job with their versions of these Cave classics. Galashan is suitably menacing when playing the production’s more sinister characters, especially when playing Stagger Lee, a role that requires something a little bit extreme. However, it’s Connolly who steals the show, with her versatility throughout and showing a gift for comedy; it’s worth the price of admission alone for her comedic facial expressions.

Both Galashan and Connolly have great chemistry with one another and charisma by the bucket loads, which is needed for their numerous incarnations. The singing voices of the quartet aren’t too shabby, providing a unique take and giving a theatrical element to these songs. Cave himself has always added a touch of theatrics for his live performances, so songs like Stagger Lee, Henry Lee and Where the Wild Roses Grow, which all feature in the show, are perfect for what the B Collective have in mind. Add into the mix some well-choreographed fights and dance routines and you have the package for a fun, old fashioned cabaret show, albeit with lots of profanity and violence.

Tonight’s performance wasn’t without its flaws. The staging and seating arrangements made it difficult to see at times, especially if you were sat towards the back of the makeshift theatre: it was distracting and frustrating as you had to swivel your head in order to see some of the action, not to dissimilar to having a tall person stand in front of you at a gig.

Writer Gerry Smyth has written a darkly comic production that is silly, shocking and highly entertaining. Blending the gallows humour of Cave’s songs and filling in the gaps with his own interpretation, and under the fine direction of Ellie Hurt, they have created a wicked, riotous show, that you don’t have to be a fan of Nick Cave to appreciate. Here’s hoping this unique production company can create more shows of this standard in the near future, however may be go for something with a smaller body count – you’ll save a fortune in fake blood!

Reviewed on 31 October 2019

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Bloody Hell!

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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