Review: Blues in the Night, at Kiln Theatre
01 August, 2019 — By Howard Loxton
Clive Rowe in Blues in the Night. Photo: Matt Humphrey
SHELDON Epps’ compilation of songs from the likes of Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Johnny Mercer, Alberta Hunter and other blues greats has them sung by the occupants of a run-down hotel in Chicago in the 1930s loosely linked by their interaction.
Designer Robert Jones sets their rooms on individual platforms that jut forward, so they seem close-up, steps bring them downstage beside the band led by pianist Oscar (Mark Dickman) or the bar below a neon Hotel sign where barman (Joseph Poulton) and his hustler partner (Aston New) hang out.
The scene is introduced by The Lady (Sharon D Clarke), a former performer who recalls good times and bad times as she looks through her scrapbook and doles out advice about men like club singer The Man (Clive Rowe), who spell danger. She gives it to The Woman (Debbie Kurup), who has come down in the world and is selling off her jewels to pay for her drugs, and to The Girl (Gemma Sutton) who takes to drink when dumped by her lover.
Music leads here, the songs all tell stories. From the first saxophone wail, these singers make a great sound. Clarke (Olivier winner for Caroline, or Chance and acclaimed for her performance in Death of a Salesman – soon to transfer to the West End) gives a superb performance, whether being wickedly suggestive or in a tit-for-tat musical battle with Rowe (also splendid, his bubbly charm hiding the dark side) and she’s especially moving in Smith’s Wasted Life Blues.
Kurup, with the biggest white fox fur you ever saw (more like a polar bear), presents her decline from Stompin’ at the Savoy to Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out and Sutton, touchingly disillusioned in Willow Weep for Me, makes a lively contribution in happier numbers.
Frank Thompson provides lively choreography and in the midst of their strutting barman and hustler even snatch a kiss while the others aren’t looking. A superb night out!
Until September 7
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