Theatre in Wales

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Rocking with the Bad Mothers

At Theatr Clwyd

Gagglebabble, the Other Room & Theatr Clwyd- Sinners Club , Soho Theatre , December 13, 2017
At Theatr Clwyd by Gagglebabble, the Other Room & Theatr Clwyd- Sinners Club The snow in mid-December is lying deep in Rhyl, the place of birth of Ruth Ellis. In London, the city that lured her to a life of tawdry glamour, it has not lasted. Wet slush and a cold rain are coursing down on Soho. The clubs where she worked as hostess, and more, were all here within a few minutes' walk. The pub where she shot her lover is three miles north. It was an act so blatant that when the documents of the case were shared between Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George and his sister Megan the conclusion was that nothing could be done legally to avert the sentence of the court.

In Dean Street, sixty-two years on, a whippet of a drummer is laying down a torrent of rhythm. He is Paolo Adamo and is joined by Dan Messore's lead guitar and Aidan Thorne on bass. The Soho Theatre has two performance spaces. “Sinners Club” plays at the top of the building. The space is not large, painted in black, but Mark Bailey's design has given it pertinent details, four worn rugs, a recording booth, microphones, a quaint drinks trolley laden with spirits. This was not an age for prosecco. Katy Morison's lighting in the small space darts between the light and the dark in a way that mirrors the life of Ruth Ellis.

Lucy Rivers enters with the lights going down. With hair scooped high she wears a leopard skin coat and high-heeled boots of patent leather. Ear-rings are the size of a ten pence coin. The music is anthemic with a tinge of blues running through. Later the band swaps instruments for mandolin and tambourine. Lucy Rivers plays fiddle and wears a stetson and fringed jacket all in white. It is time for some Country and Western. But the number is an exception; in the main it is music of power serving a big voice of power.

The music was the starting-point for “Sinners Club.” It is not a bio-drama of Ruth Ellis but a story with parallels, its setting a recording studio. In Lucy Rivers' description of the show's genesis “I wanted to write some songs, outside of a theatre show, that would maybe form an album that I could sing with a band.” But the voice behind the music took on a trajectory of its own. “Quite soon I realised that these songs that were about anger and death and heartbreak needed to be sung by another voice, an angrier character than my own.” The story of Ruth Ellis was the right one. “Her tragic story could be the perfect vehicle and muse for a show that was essentially an exploration into the sin and the darker side of human nature.”

The life of Ruth Ellis was brief and its high points are told crisply at intervals. After the unremarkable Hampshire childhood London is a place of allure and betrayal. A best friend dies early after being groomed and debauched by Stephen Ward. Ellis has three abortions, two children, a marriage that implodes. A song speaks wrenchingly of attempting to make a home that has no heart to it. In the Little Club in Mayfair she meets the love of her life. The violence of men that she suffers, bruises and a burn, is a part of it.

Theatre is collaboration and that of innovation even more so. The acknowledgements for “Sinners Club” are many. There is a niceness of irony in the Gladstone Library receiving a credit. A place for quiet thought helps make a show that rocks. Titus Halder, a name with a record at the Other Room, directs. It is a production where many across the performance ecology of Wales have played their role. WMC receives its thanks as does Theatr Iolo. Matthew Bulgo is there every night in Soho but not in person. His is the voice of offstage recording manager, David.

The world is structured in taxonomy. If categories needs to be made then “Sinners Club” is bio-gig-theatre. Performance that bites needs a theme that matters. Murder and its penalty were the destiny of Ruth Ellis. The question beneath the show is serious- “do we know what we are capable of?” But its working-out is true to Gagglebabble's mission to “create entertaining genre-breaking high quality gig theatre for adults.”

It is a good mission in full flower in Soho this Christmas. “Sinners Club” continues throughout December.

Photo credit: Kieran Cudlipp

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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