Reviews

Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! in the West End – review

The comedic show is a certified homicidal hoot

Bronté Barbé (Kathy) and Rebekah Hinds (Stella), © Pamela Raith
Bronté Barbé (Kathy) and Rebekah Hinds (Stella), © Pamela Raith

After two seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe and a couple of stops in Manchester and Bristol, Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! rides the wave of new British musicals into the West End, alongside the likes of Operation Mincemeat, Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York), Why Am I So Single? and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It also joins a long and illustrious line of murder mystery musicals – the most recent to entertain West End audiences being the farcically meta Curtains. Showtunes and serial murder are surprisingly snug bedfellows.

The premise here is fun and quirky – two amateur podcasters and best friend Hullensians Kathy and Stella while away the hours chewing through their favourite unsolved murder cases, only to inadvertently stumble across a murder of their own: thrusting them into the spotlight, testing their friendship and forcing them to enter into the cut-throat (sometimes quite literally) world of professional podcasting.

Murder, podcasts and musicals are a potent combination (one that worked fantastically well for shows like the most recent season of Only Murders in the Building, which is pre-dated by this), and writers Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones mine the form by introducing all manner of eccentric, ominous and larger-than-life figures that soar in and out of Kathy and Stella’s investigations. There’s also a juicy, but never burdensome, through-line about the ways in which gender, true crime and online communities can intersect.

The cast, © Pamela Raith
The cast, © Pamela Raith

Like most murder mysteries, act one is the slower of the two – inevitably having to go through the motions introducing us to every possible suspect. It is accompanied by some amiable tunes courtesy of Floyd Jones, though hampered slightly by sound design that throws away some likely cracking lines and lyrics. The second half is about as pacy and as raucous as they come, and Kathy and Stella hits its stride as each ludicrous revelation lands – it’s where co-directors Brittain and Fabian Aloise (who also choreographs) really show off their talents.

Anchoring it all together are some sublime central performances from Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds as the titular Kathy and Stella, with their pivotal friendship acting as the true heart of the piece. Imelda Warren-Green delivers one of the best multi-roling turns on a West End stage, while Hannah Jane Fox gets some showstopping moments of her own. All in all, it amounts to a killer addition to the musical pantheon.   

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