Review: Blues In The Night at Kiln Theatre

PUBLISHED: 12:44 25 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:44 25 July 2019

Blues in the Night picture Matt Humphrey

Blues in the Night picture Matt Humphrey

© Matt Humphrey 2019

While lacking in dramatic heft this sultry revue of the jazz greats sees some blissful musical sparring between Sharon D Clarke and Clive Rowe

Sharon D Clarke as The Lady  in Blues in the Night at Kiln Theatre picture by Matt HumphreySharon D Clarke as The Lady in Blues in the Night at Kiln Theatre picture by Matt Humphrey

Susie McKenna directed a well-received showcase of Sheldon Epps' musical revue at Hackney Empire in 2014.

Now, she's back with a full run, giving jubilant voice to this celebration of jazz greats like Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.

In a rundown hotel in 1938 Chicago, the female occupants are "on the edge": let down by men, mourning their lost money and status, or dreaming of former vaudevillian glory.

So, they sing the blues, individually and - in a nice moment of solidarity - together.

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Once again starring in this show while fresh from an Olivier Award win, the mighty Sharon D Clarke is like Bessie Smith reincarnated, whether relishing a song's carnal innuendo, triumphing in the battle of the sexes, or stopping the show with the cathartic wail of "Wasted Life Blues" when her 'Lady' gives into despair.

Debbie Kurup brings furious bitterness, slinky moves and impressive scatting to her sophisticate fallen on hard times, while Gemma Sutton's ingenue begins sweetly hopeful, but disillusionment soon colours her voice. Experience might be painful, but it makes for rich, soulful blues.

Clive Rowe's Man represents all the evils of his sex, but he also has an irresistible twinkle in his eye - and knockout top notes.

His sparring with Clarke is a highlight. Choreographer Frank Thompson adds some slick moves, including a male duet for backing dancers Aston New and Joseph Poulton.

There's also fabulous tasselled kimonos from Lotte Collett, Neil Austin's moody lighting, an evocative Robert Jones set transporting us to the smoky basement gin joint, and creative orchestrations from Mark Dickman, who leads the dynamic onstage band.

It might lack dramatic heft, but this sultry revue is musical bliss. "I ain't getting older, I'm getting better!" proclaims Clarke's Lady - and ain't that the truth?

4/5

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