Reviewed – 7th December 2017
“she is achingly cool from the moment she rocks up in a leopard print coat and huge sunglasses”
“An eye for an eye I deserve to die” the chilling final words of Ruth Ellis echo through a room lit only by flickering lights as a singer in a feathered cape tails off her belter of a last note. Welcome to ‘The Sinners Club’.
Presented as the live recording of a concept album about Ellis, the last women to be hanged in Britain, ‘The Sinners Club’ is wickedly unconventional with incredible musical performances. Ellis, who shot her unfaithful lover David Blakely in 1955, is embodied by singer-songwriter Lucy Rivers who also wrote the show. As the lead singer of The Bad Mothers she is achingly cool from the moment she rocks up in a leopard print coat and huge sunglasses. Her chemistry with the band members and the rest of the audience is electric and her performance is enrapturing for the entire 90 minutes. The small moments of stand-up like repartee between songs are delightful and her sharp quips get huge laughs. As if this weren’t impressive enough she also plays the guitar, piano and the violin in various musical numbers.
The space has been transformed into a recording studio complete with drinks cart and mismatched rugs. In the corner is a vocal booth from which our feisty singer argues with the recording editor, who exists only as a bodiless voice through the speakers. From this cell-like booth what start as creative difficulties begin to mirror Ellis’ desperate pleas for her lover to be faithful. Photos of Ruth Ellis are illuminated on the wall and recordings of her voice play on a loop at various points, giving the unsettling impression that she is haunting this retelling of her own story.
This is not a straight-forward retelling of Ellis’ life, and the singer weaves details from her own life into musical numbers and vignettes that require the audiences to piece events together. The three-man band supporting this musical endeavour are brilliant at reacting and performing with Rivers without detracting too much attention from her. Their collective energy means that even in sombre moments the pace doesn’t lag. An acoustic country song about Ellis suffering from her lover’s friend’s disdain is a particularly good number performed as the band sits in a circle providing harmonies.
Produced by Gagglebabble, Theatr Clwyd and The Other Room, The Sinners Club was captivating throughout and I was utterly blown away by Lucy Rivers and The Bad Mothers. You won’t leave knowing every detail of Ruth Ellis’ life but the lasting impression of the piece is far more powerful than facts alone.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Photography by Kieran Cudlip
is at the Soho Theatre until 30th December