Review: Blues in the Night, Kiln Theatre

Sharon D. Clarke is a force. The Olivier Award winner appears unstoppable, now sprinkling a little stardust over Susie McKenna’s glorious production of Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre. As “The Lady” her voice is powerful and moving, imbued with soul. We behold a heart-wrenching performance of faded glory that resonates from the second she graces the stage. Later in the show, her rendition of Bessie Smith’s classic ‘Wasted Life Blues’ proves a show-stopper. 

Each note from Clarke is perfect. Her range, her breath is second-to-none. And yet, as much as one could continue to applaud Clarke’s performance, she is joined by several first-rate talents, including Clive Rowe. His turn as the unreliable, no-good-man is simply irresistible. Rowe has already received critical acclaim for his roles in musicals including Carousel and Guys and Dolls. His undeniable vocal talent sees him smoothly take command of several Blues hits. He is also a brilliant mover, naturally light on his feet.

Debbie Kurup and Gemma Sutton are both tragically disillusioned women, trapped in a post-war Chicago that doesn’t give them the life they dream of. Kurup is sublime, her voice moody and sultry – the perfect foil for the youthful exuberance and vivacity of Sutton’s “Girl”. Her rendition of ‘Willow Weep for Me’ is delightful.

The versatile space of the renovated Kiln Theatre proves the consummate playground for designer Robert Jones. He creates a smoke-filled lounge in a cheap 1950s Chicago hotel, bordered by the broken apartments of the three women living there – all dreaming of lives that have passed them by.

Susie McKenna has created a spectacular theatre event, taking a musical that Sheldon Epps himself indicated was born out of roughly outlined caricatures and some familiar music, and discovering within it the pathos of a powerful human drama. 

McKenna has succeeded in gathering together the finest talent – including excellent musicians such as Mark Dickson on piano and Shaney Forbes on drums – to blow your socks off. I could see this making a transfer. Don’t miss out!

Blues in the Night is playing the Kiln Theatre until 7 September. For more information and tickets, see the Kiln Theatre website.