Blues in the Night review: Sharon D Clarke sings the blues in haunting tribute to power of music
If the London stage has its own seven wonders, then one of them is surely Sharon D Clarke. After picking up an Olivier for her sensational turn in Caroline, Or Change, the star with the roof-lifting voice brings the house down again as she sings the blues at the Kiln Theatre.
Set in an shabby Chicago hotel in the Thirties, Sheldon Epps’s musical revue uses jazz and blues numbers by the likes of Bessie Smith to convey the dreams and disappointments of a group of three women, all haunted by the same man. That’s about as far as it goes in terms of plot, but Susie McKenna’s funny, haunting revival shows how music can be used to express — and overcome — life’s pain.
As The Lady, Clarke plays a world-weary performer who doles out advice to her younger counterparts, but privately indulges in old memories. She later lets rip, with a lament for her wasted life — “What will become of poor me?” she wonders — and last night the audience didn’t know whether to fall at her feet or slump on the ground in a sobbing mess.
It’s a pleasure to hear Clarke sing alongside Clive Rowe, who plays The Man; together they channel Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, a shared history laced with acidic asides.
Gemma Sutton brings an indefatigable optimism to a wide-eyed young woman who is looking for love, while Debbie Kurup is powerful as her disillusioned counterpart, tormented by life’s disappointments.
The band sound glorious and the newly refurbished Kiln has never looked bigger or better. Robert Jones’s design transports us to a smoky, whiskey-fuelled piano bar and takes us inside the women’s lonely hotel rooms.
“I’ve got a right to sing the blues,” the women sing together — and it becomes a demand for the right to feel, to be sad, and to speak.
Until September 7 (020 7328 1000; kilntheatre.com)