Review: Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder!, Ambassadors Theatre

Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! is solidly good, chirpy fun at the Ambassadors Theatre

“It doesn’t matter what or why
We can be each other’s alibi”

From its garlanded appearance at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe festival, through runs in Bristol and Manchester, to its arrival now in the West End in the bijou Ambassadors Theatre, Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! is a real shot in the arm in so many ways. Continued proof of the strength of new British musical theatre writing, northern female voices front and centre, genuine commitment to body diversity in its casting (I’d love not to feel like I have to mention it but let’s be real), Kathy and Stella are really doing the thing.

Written by Jon Brittain (book and lyrics, also co-director) and Matthew Floyd Jones (music and lyrics), Kathy and Stella are best pals who broadcast their true-crime podcast from Kathy’s mum’s garage in Beverley. Thing is, they don’t do much else besides, trapped in their differing but connected millienial ennui. So when their favourite author is murdered at a book signing in nearby Hull, they take it upon themselves to use the knowledge they think they’ve learned to try and solve the case. Safe to say, shenanigans ensue.

As Kathy and Stella respectively, Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds are enormously good fun. Goofy and quirky and never short of a good quip, they’re a hoot to watch as their decision to turn crime-solvers ripples out in unexpected ways so that the show ends up much more than just a whodunnit. It’s about friendship, and navigating a friendship when situations change. It also touches on the psychology of true crime obsessives but not substantively – echoes of the Nicola Bulley case unhelpfully nag at the mind here, particularly in the interactions with social media, but the whole vibe of the show is much more light-hearted for better or worse.

Around them, an entertaining ensemble multi-role as the family members raising an eyebrow, the police warning them off, the friends and fans who egg them on and much more besides. Hannah-Jane Fox is brassy brilliance as the unlucky author Felicia but maybe that’s not the last we see of her…Imelda Warren-Green is also excellent in her range of roles too. Choreographer and co-director Fabian Aloise utilises them all well, particularly in the bouncier tunes of the first half, the brightness of Cecilia Carey’s costumes adding to the atmosphere.

The show has extended considerably from its fringe origins, it’s nearly twice the length now from 70 minutes and there are a few moments where it loses some of its sharpness, a few songs that don’t burst with the character of the rest. Nothing fatal but something does feel overall a little diluted which left me feeling like I liked the show, a lot at times, rather than truly loving it. I hope the Hull Decapitator doesn’t take it too personally…

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