Debuting at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, this East Yorkshire-based murder mystery (a Hull-dunnit if you will) has been expanded ahead of a second run. It’s knives out in a new, Northern musical that promises slaughter and laughter – at its final destination of Manchester.
Childhood besties and idlers Kathy (Bronté Barbé) and Stella (Rebekah Hinds) share a joint passion for grisly true crime through a podcast that’s about as popular as they are. However, when their favourite author is brutally murdered, the chance to take on a case of their own- and turn ‘Kathy and Stella’s Murder Podcast’ into a sensation- proves too thrilling to pass up.
Kathy and Stella gets off to a flying start, with Jon Brittain’s sweary script evoking lots of belly laughter from the audience. We’re introduced to the titular duo in an opening number that’s both amusing and catchy: everybody is instantly rooting for them. Quick-wit and one-liners keep us engaged.
By the end of act one, pacing slumps to a near-standstill as the protagonists’ inevitable falling out and a hyper-focusing on their flaws has the story in a chokehold. A winning comic musical can of course still have occasional tender moments, but for something with so much black comedy, the humour/pathos balance in this show tips too heavily towards the latter.
Hinds offers a zealous performance of tough-as-nails Stella to which she lends an attention-grabbing voice. Likewise, Barbé brings the quirky, geeky personality of Kathy to the fore with winsome enthusiasm.
The pair enjoys exemplary support from a cut-throat cast: scene-stealing Jodie Jacobs well and truly slays as Felicia by means of a melodramatic demeanour. Meanwhile, TJ Lloyd delights as morgue technician Justin as well as Kathy’s mother.
Though a few of the songs possess a snappy tune and clever lyrics, it is often hard to discern them as one almost immediately leads into the similar-sounding next. Fabian Aloise’s choreography appears to limit itself to the restraints of a Fringe environment, rarely extending beyond scooting around in desk chairs which results in a waste of a sizeable stage.
A gag reliant on aggressive lesbophobia becomes problematic by its third or fourth recurrence.
For an evening of crime-solving camaraderie, Kathy and Stella are on the case.
Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder!continues at HOME in Manchester until 21st October with tickets available from https://homemcr.org/production/kathy-and-stella-solve-a-murder/
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 10th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: