“I’m gonna speak to them about getting you out of here”
Hotfooting it back from a Leicester matinée to make a 7.30pm start at the Roundhouse is not a journey I’ll be challenging myself with again in a hurry, but I was glad to have done it on this occasion as it meant I was able to catch the final performance of Kate Tempest’s Hopelessly Devoted For You as Paines Plough toured it for a third time in quick succession since its premiere in September last year. Tempest’s star has long been on the rise but a well-deserved Mercury Music Prize nomination for her album Everybody Downand a new volume of poetry Hold Your Own are capping off a remarkable year for her.
Hopelessly Devoted… was born out of Tempest’s own experiences visiting Holloway Prison – Sheila Atim’s Chess and Demi Oyediran’s Serena are two young women who have forged an intense relationship through sharing a cell and lengthy sentences but change is on the horizon. Serena is up for parole and Chess’ musical talent is being nurtured in a singer/songwriter class run by Franc Ashman’s Silver, a woman fighting her own demons. They each have their own struggles – dealing with the outside world, a lack of self-confidence, drug addiction – but the redemption they’re all looking for is the same.
In some ways, there’s a surprising amount of sentimentality in the way the story unfolds but to focus solely on that is to exclude the rich level of detail that Tempest has imbued the text and music with, and which is teased out adroitly by Stef O’Driscoll’s direction. Tempest never lets us forget the iniquities of a society that would happily forget about such women and consequently offers them so little. But she also dramatizes beautifully the soaring escapism that music can offer, the exhilaration of the creative process, the euphoria of singing. Atim is just sensational as the embodiment of all this, slowly coming to realise the gravity of her gift and utterly making you forgive any potential shortcomings the writing might have.