BLOODY ELLE at the Soho Theatre
“The audience are putty in her hand as Redding navigates along the highs and lows”
You should expect to leave Bloody Elle having fallen in love with ‘Elle’. Lauryn Redding, who wrote and stars, has created a superb one woman ‘gig musical’ show fizzing with life, music and humour.
Elle is a regular teenager who lives in a northern city in 2009, with home a tower block apartment that she shares with her mum. She escapes the daily monotony of working at her local ‘Chips and Dips’ shop by writing songs on her guitar. But then Eve starts working next to her on the counter, and her whole world changes. In many ways this is a classic Romeo and Juliet, both-side-of-the-tracks story, but the sensitive exploration of class and queerness ensures this still feels fresh.
Redding flips between roles as she tells Elle’s story, affecting comedic tell-tale mannerisms and accents to clearly differentiate colleagues, friends, her mother, and Eve. Although these characterisations initially feel slightly forced, Redding relaxes into the role so that transitions become smooth. Several characters stand out: Elle’s dour, Welsh Chips and Dips manager, and Eve’s Patsy Stone-like mother elicit laughs every time they appear. As Elle, Redding flirts outrageously with the audience, and it is impossible to resist her charm.
The music is the beating heart of this piece. Redding uses clever looping to create beautiful soundscapes with just her voice and guitar, occasionally supported by pre-recorded backing tracks in the same style (Alexandra Faye Braithwaite supports with Sound Design and Additional Composition). There are more musical snippets than full songs which keeps the piece bouncing along at speed. Redding’s strength is her lyricism, which is always fully consistent with Elle’s character, and she enunciates with such clarity and energy that you do not miss a moment. The audience are putty in her hand as Redding navigates along the highs and lows of a revolutionary first love, erotic sighs and choice vocal effects building exquisite tension to back ‘moment moments’. Redding is a supremely talented singer, comfortable in big, ballad-like moments as well as sensitive, softer songs.
The direction (Bryony Shanahan) is smart, with a sequence where Elle first enters Eve’s house particularly notable for some excellent physical humour, and great lighting effects (Mark Distin Webster).
Redding hops nimbly around a simple stage set on three raised levels, plain black but with splatters of white paint that are reminiscent of ubiquitous early social media ‘emo’ wallpapers. It is beautifully 2009. The platforms are set up like a back-of-pub gig with Elle’s guitars and mic stands spread between them. When singing, Redding uses mics to strong effect to add echoes and reverberations, but moves freely between them, not relying on amplification for spoken passages between songs that have the rhythm and thrust of spoken word poetry.
Though the majority of the action takes place in the late noughties, this is framed top and tail with present day Elle looking back, a decade on. The Unprologue is a cleverly meta introduction to the themes in the piece, though the ending contrasts this and the rest of the show with its ‘unproduced’ feel. Elle almost steps outside character to deliver a diatribe against suppression in all forms. This isn’t subtle by any means, but Elle has built up so much goodwill that she can spend a little time on a soapbox.
Reviewed on 13th July 2023
by Rosie Thomas
Photography by Lotti Amor
Previously reviewed at this venue: