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Brighton Fringe 2014

The Bloody Ballad

Gaggle Babble

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: The Warren


Low Down

This is a Grimm’s-fairy-tale-meets-Charles-Starkweather-murder-spree rockabilly/blues/country musical.


As we entered the theatre the soundtrack of a Fifties’ horror film trailer perfectly set the tone for this bleak, tongue-in-cheek tour-de-force.

After a delayed start (possibly to technical issues) the cast appeared in the guise of the redneck-surf-punk-pulp-rockabilly band, ‘The Missing Fingers!’. The line-up was drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, cello, accordion and fiddle. They opened with covers of Eddie Cochran’s Somethin’ Else and Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, but these were ropey and lacklustre to say the least. However, once the covers were over and the main character, Mary came on stage and began to sing with a country vibe, the band began to recover with some Chris Isaak–style sounds, evocative of a David Lynch film.

Set at the Memorial Day dance in a small Mid-Western town, a bloodied Mary (Lucy Rivers) recounts her whirlwind week of finding a man to love, followed by murder and mayhem.

The show had a vibe reminiscent of Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album: dark sinister with the blackest of humour veins running throughout its cold heart. Pacy, it never drags, and the songs about everything from child abuse to homicide are generally quality, with the exception of Lying in My Bed, which felt too contemporary. But the multi-instrumentalist band’s performance was lacking the night we saw them.

The breakneck romance between dangerous drifter, Connor (Tom Cottle) and Gas Station-running Mary was evocatively played, with the leads engaging in a balletic and brutal fistfight as foreplay. However, in their rush to tell the story there were a couple of plot points that needed clearing up, as threads were left annoyingly hanging or simply unclear.

Hannah McPake stole the show as Connor’s maniacal, murderous mother, gurning and hamming to full effect, screaming, “People who is evil, gotta die!” but without any real menace. And therein lies the shows main weakness. When the story is undoubtly brutal and savage, it doesn’t really feel threatening at any point. Connor’s supposedly scary brothers, and Mary’s abusive, drunken father never make a stage appearance, leaving a gap in the fear stakes. It all felt rather pantomime, rather than Grand Guignol. This could have been played up, as most of the truly brutal scenes occur off-stage in a, admittedly clever, shadow puppet-like screen. Adding buckets of blood and ramping up the grisly aspects would certainly have helped heighten the emotions, and played off the humour better. The company shouldn’t be afraid to go the whole hog, as the type of audience attracted to this kind of show would certainly appreciate it.

The minimal set served the show well, as did the clever lighting and stage production, managing to effectively evoke many epic moments with minimal effort. 

Overall, a good show that’s worth seeing, and has the potential to become a cult hit.