Real blues music sprang from the sadness and want of the working class man,
yearning for his home, lover, even a better life. The song style began in the southern states of America, sung and played by
working class African Americans, was developed in the church by gospel
singers and became really popular through performers such as Billie
Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Blues in the Night is a collection of well-loved and less-familiar
blues songs performed by three females and one male - their characters
referred to simply as The Lady, The Woman, The Girl and The Man.
There's no story as such, just a glimpse at the lives of the characters as
told through some 26 songs in a show lasting just under two hours, including
interval. And in this production, directed by Kate Edgar, each song is delivered
with style, energy and understanding.
Will Hargreaves' set shows the 1930s Chicago hotel rooms of the three
women, simply furnished and with the constant whirr of ceiling fans over
their beds. Each room is joined by a walkway and stairs, enabling the women
to join forces for ensemble numbers or take centre stage for solos.
The songs include the hilarious "Take Me for a Buggy
Ride", "Kitchen Man" and "Rough and Ready Man", each packed with double
entendres. There are also the downright heartbreaking classics "Lover Man", "Willow
Weep For Me" and "Wasted Life Blues", and the foot-tapping catchy
numbers like "Take It Right Back".
Former Chicago and Fosse star Nicola Hughes is reminiscent
of a young Gladys Knight as The Woman; Emma Jay Thomas boasts a powerful
voice as The Girl, but the honours go certainly to Hope Augustus as The
Woman. Beyond relying merely on a great voice, it's a part that demands maturity, experience of life and the
ability to really deliver a song, and
Augustus exceeds expectation in every department. The three are supported well by
Christopher Colquhoun as The Man, though the only male part
actually adds very little to the overall feel of the piece.
Still, for all its plus points, and there are many, Blues in the Night doesn't actually
work as a piece of theatre. It's a blues concert, performed by actresses,
and although Birmingham's opening night audience gave it an enthusiastic
response, for me and my companion it just didn't gel.
What's more, although the six-piece band, led by Dean Austin, is superb, it tends to drown
out the singers just at the moments when they're really giving their all,
and the synergy between the women is distinctly lacking.
But hey, if you like good music and love the blues, see it anyway.