“Listen and I’ll tell a tale
A tale where good does not prevail
A King, a Queen, a Club, a Knave
One is destined for the grave…”
Those words delivered by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in the narrator role perfectly set the scene for what is to come as we delve into the murky lives of Michael, Sara and Tom. In-keeping with classic ‘Whodunit’ traditions, the audience are aware that onstage their is a killer and a murder will take place, the extra tension builds as nobody is aware who the victim (or victims) will be.
Murder Ballad is set in modern New York City, driven along by a pop-rock soundtrack that brings out the best in the cast’s vocals. As a show with only 4 characters, the fact that two of them are Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo shows the level of talent we are working with here. In fact it was the casting which drew me to this show and the two aforementioned performers were a joy to watch. As Sara and Tom they complete two thirds of the love triangle which reveals itself to be the catalyst for murder. They are joined by Norman Bowman, who puts in a great performance as family man and academic Michael – in stark contrast to Karimloo’s darker, dangerously possessive Tom.
The quartet is completed by someone previously unknown to me, but someone I am keen to see again – Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. Her role as the narrator moves the show along at moments where the intensity drops, and her vocal performance throughout was exquisite. It is her enigmatic presence throughout, standing in the shadows, chain-smoking through the scenes, which evokes classic noir in this modern setting.
It’s a one-act, 90 minute piece, which feels about right. It’s not a plot full of twists and turns – it saves the big reveal for the ending, but it is a fun show and well-performed by the cast and the onstage band. A particular highlight is the reprise of ‘You Belong To Me’ featuring all four performers – the harmonies when they all sing together are a joy to witness live. None of the recordings and promotional clips do that justice.
The show runs until December 3rd at the Arts Theatre, and it’s a bigger crime that it didn’t get a longer run. I’ve seen it twice during its short stay and it was an absolute pleasure both times. It deserves to be seen by more people, so I hope we see it return in the future.