A jaunty musical about the two lifelong friends who host the most unsuccessful true crime podcast in Yorkshire hardly seems promising material. But the sheer energy of Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! makes it daftly entertaining.
It’s written by Jon Brittain (who also directs) and Matthew Floyd Jones, the team behind Super Happy Story (About Feeling Sad). Brittain’s other credit was as director for Richard Gadd’s groundbreaking Baby Reindeer, such a success in 2019. So, both have form in turning unusual ideas into hits.
Kathy and Stella has similar potential. Its starting point is simple. In order to find more success for their podcast, recorded in a garage and streamed to an audience of hardly anyone, the unlikely duo decide to solve the real-life murder of their favourite true crime writer. The subsequent plot is as flimsy as gossamer, and the music – played on keyboards by Floyd Jones – is efficient rather than memorable.
But the lyrics are witty, and attractively down to earth. When Kathy, who suffers from anxiety, suddenly realises that it has always been her dream to be a forensic examiner, she sings cheerfully about the way she was always “playing doctors and corpses” when other girls were dreaming of ballet and horses. Another moment of high drama rhymes Felicia Taylor (the crime writer who has been murdered) with “breathe on your inhaler” as both women suck on their asthma pumps.
The performances generate great warmth. The whole idea is that these girls are misfits, outsiders to everyone but each other, whose friendship has saved them from despair. “If I didn’t have you, I would die”, they sing. Bronté Barbé gives Kathy a constant air of worry and a bright, winning smile; as Stella, Rebekah Hinds is grumpily stompy, hiding her sense of being a failure beneath a brusque exterior. They are excellently supported in multiple roles by Jodie Jacobs, TJ Lloyd and Imelda Warren-Green, who all boast excellent voices and an infectious sense of fun.
Late night at Edinburgh, it all sweeps you along very happily. Whether it can quite have the extended success of producer Francesca Moody’s most famous hit Fleabag seems a little doubtful, but its celebration of supportive female friendship and an overriding sense of inclusive mischief make it very appealing.