Writer and Music: Stella Grundy
Director: Iain Bloomfield
Reviewer: Lucy Corley
She introduces it as “a cautionary tale about a girl who wanted everything,” but Stella Grundy’s one-woman show is also a tale about the city of Manchester, and a portrait of the music industry of the 1980s. Grundy was the lead singer in 90s alternative rock band Intastella, and plays the semi-autobiographical rôle of Tracy Star with a warm and self-parodic style that quickly wins over her audience. The Rise and Fall of a Northern Star is a psychedelic blend of gig and play: Grundy’s songs blur into narrative as Tracy talks us through her life and music.
For the teenage dreamer Tracy, whose idol David Bowie stares at the audience from the front of her T-shirt, “Manchester was ‘ollywood. With puddles.” Tracy’s attempts to pursue her passion for music take her from Manchester clubs to London recording studios to BBC radio interviews, and on the way she discovers how much she is prepared to sacrifice to get her music heard.
A stand-out element of the show are the unnamed lighting and sound technicians, who conjure everything from the echoing, eerily sterile sound of a recording studio, to the front row of a rock concert or a moment of ethereal paganism in a cave, using loop pedals, coloured lights and smoke machines.
While alone on stage throughout, Grundy skilfully performs the voices and mannerisms of the people Tracy meets – from the sulky, baritone guitarist in her band to the drawling, grotesque London “music exec,” working his hips and misinterpreting their music. Her singing voice has echoes of Paloma Faith, and she performs with a rock star’s assertive stage presence. As the play progresses, the timbre of her voice changes: the carefree lilt of her early gigs (wearing Y-fronts over her trousers because she has a vague sense that androgyny is cool) is only a memory in her final performance, when each note is tinged with the weight of her experiences.
As Tracy descends into the mental torment of drug addiction, Grundy shivers and flinches away from invisible hands, clinging to the microphone as if it were the lifeline that can keep her from drowning in what has become a cycle of misery, fear and drugs. Strobe lighting pulsates as Tracy’s words flow faster and faster and her thoughts fragment. These emotionally intense, quite distressing moments are effectively offset by Grundy’s great sense of comedy and deadpan delivery of lines like “I became a sexual predator,” accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders and slightly baffled, “how-did-this-happen-to-me?” expression.
The narrative is almost hallucinogenic in the way it drifts from scene to scene, and in places is difficult to follow, which is a little alienating for the audience. One or two moments struggle to maintain interest; however, these are minor flaws in a production with a unique and powerful voice unafraid to illuminate the dark side of the music industry.
Reviewed on 15th June 2015 as part of a tour.