Blues In The Night
Kiln Theatre, London ★★★★✩
WE ALL get the blues, which is just one reason to hotfoot it to this revival of Sheldon Epps’s 1980 revue featuring sultry classics by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and set in a fleapit Chicago hotel in 1939.
Director Susie McKenna first staged a version in 2014 and several cast members, including Clive Rowe and Sharon D Clarke reprise their roles as life-battered, soul-weary hotel residents who, well, sing the blues, in between knocking back the whisky and lamenting life’s crap cards.
If this sounds like a long blues cliché, to some extent, that’s the point. McKenna wreathes the stage in smoky blue and neon light; the mood is flirty and drenched in withered glamour. There is pretty much no plot. The music is the thing; a narrative of suffering and sex encoded deep within the DNA of blues music that takes full-bodied flight here.
It’s an eternal tale of rough luck, dashed dreams, maltreated women and no-good men.
Clarke is magnificent as The Lady, sparring with eroticised contempt with Rowe’s impish, predatory Man, and exuding spine-tingling despair in Bessie Smith’s Wasted Life Blues. That voice of hers penetrates the core of the earth, most notably in a saucy rendition of It Makes My Love Come Down.
Debbie Kurup oozes strung-out skittishness as the smack addict Woman while Gemma Sutton is a sweetly callow Girl, clutching a gin bottle like a drowning child. It’s a scorcher.