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The Bloody Ballad, Riverfront Theatre, Newport | reviews, news & interviews

The Bloody Ballad, Riverfront Theatre, Newport

The Bloody Ballad, Riverfront Theatre, Newport

Pure but not simple entertainment inspired by American Gothic

Extremely impressive: Lucy Rivers leads The Missing Fingers

If you’re one of those who always felt the opening credits of True Blood held more substance and delicious dark corners than the comic-book titillation of the programme that followed, then The Bloody Ballad could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Written by and starring the extremely impressive Lucy Rivers, The Bloody Ballad rolls around in all of those glimmering rusty disgusting snapshots that make up the opening sequence of the vampire soap opera and comes up grinning, stinking and energetic and sweaty and meaty. And it is all the better for it.

The Bloody Ballad is the joyously grim story of Mary (Rivers) and her courtship of sinister-yet-alluring grifter, Connor (played by Oliver Wood, channelling and then ramping up the fidgety charm of Tremors-era Kevin Bacon). They are dragged apart by the same familial gore that pulled them together in the first place, and the fast-paced mania that follows is difficult not to enjoy.

The music is as good an original score as you’re likely to hear

The story threatens to tread all-too-familiar paths on several occasions – Badlands, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Hunter – but always ends up exploiting the inherent clichés of the American Gothic tradition, revels in them, throws in a few turns, and, most importantly, invites the audience to indulge with it in a wicked sense of humour.

Its influences may be cinematic rather than theatrical, but the composition is pure theatre and the feel is high-energy romp, through themes of murder, incest, child abuse, and other topics best left away from the dinner table. The fabulous murder ballads of Rivers dominate, and the action is spat out from them seamlessly. There are times when it feels almost as if the audience are present at the live recording of a radio show, which only adds to the well-crafted conspiratorial feel of the whole evening.

The music, played live by the cast as Mary tells us her story, through the guise of her band, The Missing Fingers, is as good an original score as you’re likely to hear. The songs are clever, witty, deliciously dark  - “Things My Daddy Did (in A Minor)”, being an early level-finder - and eminently catchy. The Missing Fingers are a good enough band to have toured without the dramatic narrative (although convincing the audience of the subject matter without it may have been an uphill struggle). Dan Messore’s fabulous guitar playing underpins the entire production, and Hannah McPake’s psychotic mother is a rousing maniac (and on this night, she did a great job while battling with her battle-bent horn-rimmed spectacles).

As it builds to a Rocky Horror-esque last quarter, the energy levels ramp up and only the coldest hearts in the audience could fail not to be simultaneously tightened and exalted. Director Adele Thomas has judged the tone and pace superbly, while allowing Rivers to explore and exploit the mischievous shadows of her craft.

Direced by Adele Thomas, The Bloody Ballad has the potential to be a rattling gunshot that sounds throughout the landscape of the somewhat meagre "issue-driven" offerings of much subsidised smaller-scale theatre. It is entertainment, pure but not-so-simple; it plays wisely to its strengths, and Lucy Rivers is as strong a talent as I have seen in a number of years.

  • This Bloody Ballad is touring to Bristol Old Vic, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Volcano, Swansea, Soho Theatre and other theatres in Wales until 4 May

Watch the trailer to The Bloody Ballad


Its influences may be cinematic rather than theatrical, but the composition is pure theatre, the feel is high-energy romp


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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