Who did it? That is the big question in Murder Ballad, currently playing at the not very glamorous Arts Theatre (yes, the place is in BAD need of a refurb, there just is no denying it). I will not spoil the surprise for those who have not seen it by giving away details of the plot. Just this: While watching the show I came up with various possible endings and none was what actually happened. So there is definitely potential for a good old guessing game as the story progresses.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt does not just lead us through the story; she is the star of the show. Both her voice and her sometimes sinister, sometimes almost cheeky and always intriguing portrayal of the Narrator are in a class of its own.
Kerry Ellis plays Sarah, the female love interest. One thing is for sure: She can sing. Personally I do not find her acting convincing. She is not bad by any means but next to her fellow cast members she never manages to shine.
Then there is Ramin Karimloo – recently returned to the UK after playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway to rave reviews – as Tom, the former boyfriend: Dark, handsome – one of those guys women tend to fall for even though they know they mean trouble. Seeing Ramin take on a role that is so completely different from both the Phantom and Valjean (the two roles he has been playing on and off for a while) is a revelation. He gets to be bad and sexy and finally that incredible voice can show its diversity with a few slightly more rocky tunes. It is a joy to watch and clearly he is having fun in the show.
Norman Bowman completes the love triangle as Sarah’s nice, gentle partner Michael – the guy she meets after Tom breaks her heart and who she settles down and has a child with. Michael is without a doubt the most interesting of the three lovers. While both Sarah and Tom know there is a third “party” involved Michael is kept in the dark the longest. And it is that moment of heartbreak – when Michael realises Sarah has been cheating on him (betraying her family) – that shows what a tremendously talented actor Norman is. And as if that was not enough he is an incredibly strong singer too.
While you cannot fault the cast of this production the set falls short at times. Personally I am no fan of the huge projections used in this show. They do nothing for the production and only distract from what is happening on stage (that is what a massive black and white photo of Ramin Karimloo does to me at least – call me shallow if you want). And while the revolve is used quite well it seems a bit like a gimmick someone simply wanted to play with.
The songs did not stick in my head the first time around. I admit I have been back to see the show a second time (the cast is just too good to resist) and that time the score really got to me. So for me Murder Ballad is a grower. It is not a prefect show. It has some obvious flaws and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is worth checking out if only for seeing a group of talented, well-known performers in such a small venue – who knows when you will get the chance again.
Murder Ballad is playing at the Arts Theatre until December 3rd. For more info and to book tickets visit https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk.