The Red Side of the Moon – Actors’ Church, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Book: Zoe Woodruff

Music and Lyrics: Kathryn Tindall

Director: Priya Patel Appleby

Are popstars and the super-famous also real people? We see them on stage and in the “sidebar of shame”, but are we really just looking at avatars and representations of people created in an image a management company wants us to see?

The Red Side of the Moon seeks to show that yes, actually, these public figures we track and follow have vital and valuable inner lives and stories. The gloss of celebrity and success is scraped off, and the destructive power of fame, lack of control and weighty expectations can have is laid bare as we examine a young woman’s life in the spotlight.

A double act after a chance open-mic night meeting, Beth and Ellen grow to become regional stars as folk singer-songwriters. They’re best friends, and become more. After rumours of their relationship reach the record company and threats are issued, it all crumbles. As a solo act, Beth reaches international superstardom over the next few years before flaming out in a sequence of missed gigs, alcohol abuse and rehab.

The songs running throughout, created by Beth and Ellen as they grow together, are undoubtedly the highlight. Kathryn Tindall, also playing Ellen, creates both music and lyrics for the show and shares performance responsibilities with Elinor Peregrin as Beth. Beautiful songs in their own right, they set a perfect backdrop to this derailed love story, and they are most effective for two montage moments. The first of these comes as they are on the ascent with bigger gigs each night and fans screaming for more. The second comes as Beth faces the difficulties her fame has brought amid unresolved issues with her and Ellen’s relationship.

Their attempt at reconciliation comes with the best song of the night. So Nice to See You Again is an apology, a confession and a cry for help all in one without being self indulgent. It’s a gorgeous song, and one Elinor Peregrin really does justice to as the show reaches its apex.

Alongside the songs, the story itself from Zoe Woodruff is charming and fairly straightforward. It never really gets going or builds an energy to grab attention, however. Both Beth and Ellen experience extremes of emotion. They go through love and joy at finding each other, frustration and anger at the breakup, depression and more. The performances feel like they’re pitched at a level emotional register throughout, swinging slightly but never really feeling convincing. It’s a shame not to feel the hurt Beth is going through, and disappointing not to feel the love and reconciliation they share.

As we wonder about celebrities and the depth as people they have, we must reflect too about Beth and Ellen as characters and representatives of this story. They’re introduced suddenly, with very little in the way of nuance or context (Ellen’s in a bar in a town she’s always lived in, Beth lost her mother a while ago and now travels around to gigs). While it’s inevitable as part of the story, it’s hard to believe the love story between them without this background. It feels like we’re guilty of the same thing as the tabloids – making decisions about the characters without really knowing them.

Set outside in the garden of the Actor’s Church in Covent Garden, it’s a perfect setting for a folk gig with a story attached. The music and songs have depth and elegance, as does the musical performance; the rest of it, however, is not quite playing the same tune.

Runs until 17 July 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Gorgeous music, lacking energy overall

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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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