Home » London Theatre Reviews » Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! at Ambassadors Theatre | Review

Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! at Ambassadors Theatre | Review

Jon Brittain (book and lyrics) and Mathew Floyd Jones’ (music and lyrics) new work is billed as a ‘comedy musical’ – and it’s right that it should be described in that order. Making its way to the West End after a debut in Edinburgh fewer than 12 months ago, Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! is a frothy screwball adventure first that happens to move along with some belting tunes.  Yes, the cast undertake (fairly modest) dance numbers as they sing, but this production still has a smaller-scale fringe element to it – and I couldn’t help but wonder if it hadn’t yet quite grown into its bigger surroundings for a summer run at the Ambassadors Theatre.  But like many shows that have toured after the Fringe, there is still time for it to ‘season’ and there were plenty of jocular punters packed in on the (non-press) night I saw it.

Bronté Barbé (Kathy) and Rebekah Hinds (Stella) - Photo credit Pamela Raith
Bronté Barbé (Kathy) and Rebekah Hinds (Stella) – Photo credit Pamela Raith

The premise of amateur sleuths getting more than (or exactly what) they bargained for is not unique – Steve Martin and Martin Short’s hit TV series Only Murders in the Building (which premiered August 2021) is literally the same set-up of true crime podcasters encountering real-life murder.  Brittain describes how their concept was developed during the isolation of the pandemic and I suspect the confines of lockdown were ripe media in which to contemplate themes of friendship, loneliness and obsession as explored in the work. But Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! has an oddball wit to it that also recalls Dear Evan Hansen or the Broadway musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – but with a little less ambition and a lot more goofiness. The eponymous Kathy (Bronté Barbé) and Stella (Rebekah Hinds) could almost be characters in one of those Birmingham Rep stage adaptations of a David Walliams novel.  They, especially Hinds, play the roles deliberately broadly. This works to an extent, especially because the musical numbers are so powerful and capable of delivering more emotion than the rather frothy story, but it also gave me a nagging sense of the show’s promise not quite being fulfilled. Is this meant to be a full-on West End musical?

Cecilia Carey’s set and costume design highlighted the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the production.  The set was clever and in places surprisingly grand.  But the costumes felt indecisive: is there meant to be an in-gag about how the police aren’t remotely realistic?  Some of the costuming for legendary true crime writer, Felicia Taylor (Hannah-Jane Fox) felt like it wanted to lean on panto sight gags but they didn’t quite land.  In a smaller Fringe venue, some of the silliness would build tension and humour but it wasn’t quite in sync with playing to a bigger house… yet.

Overall, Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! isn’t especially serious. Despite having some of its producers and creatives in common with the theatrical beginnings of Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer and centring on murder, this show is not dark or challenging; in fact, it’s rather fun. There’s something about it that doesn’t quite feel designed for an adult audience but it’s equally not suitable for children.  There are moments – especially in the songs – that are laugh-out-loud hilarious and that feel freshly observed. And there are other moments that feel a little clunky – like a production struggling to unify its tone even though it keeps the pace up nicely.  I suspect, however, that there will be super-fans of this show who emerge and it doesn’t matter that I’m not one of them.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

Bronté Barbé (Newsies, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre) plays Kathy, Rebekah Hinds (Oklahoma! Young Vic/ West End) is Stella and Imelda Warren-Green (Doctor Who: Time Fracture, Immersive LDN) is Erica. They are joined by Elliot Broadfoot (I Should Be So Lucky, UK Tour) as Justin, Hannah-Jane Fox (Close-Up, the Twiggy Musical, Menier Chocolate Factory) as Felicia, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure (Moulin Rouge, West End) as DI Sue Shaw+ and Ben Redfern (The Witches, National Theatre) as David Slatter. The West End company is completed by Jennifer Caldwell (Six the Musical, UK Tour), Chelsea Hall (Bring It On the Musical, UK Tour) and Sorelle Marsh (The Time Traveller’s Wife, West End and Storyhouse, Chester).

Book & Lyrics / Co-Director: Jon Brittain
Music & Lyrics: Matthew Floyd Jones
Co-Director & Choreographer: Fabian Aloise
Set & Costume Designer: Cecilia Carey
Co-Sound Designer: Tingying Dong
Co-Sound Designer: Dan Samson
Lighting Designer: Peter Small
Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator: Charlie Ingles
Musical Director: Andrew Hilton
Associate Director: Charlie Martin
Associate Costume Designer & Costume Supervisor: Izzy Pellow
Associate Musical Director: Catherine Benson
Production Manager: Titch Gosling

BFFs Kathy and Stella host Hull’s least successful true crime podcast. When their favourite author is killed they are thrust into a thrilling whodunnit of their own! This big-hearted, laugh-out-loud musical follows the unlikely crime-fighting duo as they put their friendship on the line to become part of the story. Can they crack the case, (and become global podcast superstars) before the killer strikes again…?

Francesca Moody Productions, Kater Gordon, Wessex Grove and Fiery Angel present
KATHY AND STELLA SOLVE A MURDER!
Ambassadors Theatre
Booking to 14 September 2024
Book tickets from £20

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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