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Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder! – Bristol Old Vic

I’m not one for podcasts – a few years ago someone told me about Serial, an investigative journalism podcast about nonfiction stories. I never got around to listening to it, although this show appears to have been at least partly influenced by it, focusing on a true crime podcast put together by Kathy Baxter (Bronté Barbé) and Stella Carmichael (Rebekah Hinds). They initially met as pupils, but such was their dedication to their podcast and to one another that the passing of the years didn’t stop them from faithfully pursuing their hobby of investigating crimes.

Kathy & Stella company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Kathy & Stella company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Something eventually has to give, however, and much to Stella’s chagrin, Kathy decides to apply for a university course, and the one she wants to do involves moving across the Pennines (as Stella puts it), specifically from their Hull base to Manchester. Of course, technology means it is entirely possible to broadcast from more than one location at the same time, and in one of many laugh-out-loud moments in the show, there are teething problems with that because of a time delay.

It is not, thankfully, a metaphor for the show as a whole, which proceeds at a suitably brisk pace, matching both the youthful vibrancy of its main characters as well as the speed with which stories develop over social media whenever something goes ‘viral’. This isn’t a sung-through musical but a four-piece band is nonetheless kept busy throughout. When a Kathy and Stella murder investigation goes into overdrive on account of a body part being sent to them, the pressure is on to find out who did it.

Astute observations abound in the narrative, from everything from public perceptions of policing in Britain today to the effects, both direct and indirect, positive and negative, of vigilante detective work. Scene changes are swift, at least in part thanks to relatively sparse staging. Backdrops and projections ensure it’s never difficult to work out where any given scene is set, and the sound design (Tingying Dong and Dan Samson) provides a suitable ambience in every setting, from the garage where the podcasts are recorded, to a large gathering at ‘Murder Con’, a weekend-long convention of true crime podcast fans.

The two leads harmonise very well, as do the rest of the cast, such that the musical numbers are a delight to listen to, even if some of the lyrics are so fast-paced I occasionally wished for them to be delivered a little slower, if only to be able to appreciate them better. Perhaps a tad too predictably, Kathy and Stella are individually markedly different, the former being more cautious and careful, the latter more outspoken and (almost) ostentatious. There’s a lot of detail in the story, which gives the pair’s investigations some credibility, but the audience also gets to know what they are like when they’re not broadcasting (or rather podcasting).

A delightful coming-of-age story, the show demonstrates the power of friendship and captures the dangers and thrills of going out on a limb and going against supposedly wise advice. It’s both entertaining and illuminating, as they learn from their mistakes and move on from them. I found it impossible not to root for them in this charming and enjoyable production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This is impossible! We’ve got no motives. No suspects. We don’t know anything! Who knew solving a murder would be so hard?

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! Can they crack the case (and become global podcast superstars) before the killer strikes again…?

A hilarious murder mystery musical from the Olivier Award-winning team behind Fleabag, Baby Reindeer and A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad).

Book and Lyrics / Co-Director Jon Brittain
Music and Lyrics / Musical Director Matthew Floyd Jones
Co-Director and Choreographer Fabian Aloise
Set and Costume Designer Cecilia Carey
Co-Sound Designer Tingying Dong
Co-Sound Designer Dan Samson
Lighting Designer Peter Small
Orchestrator Charlie Ingles
Associate Director Charlie Martin
Associate Musical Director Caitlin Morgan
Associate Lighting Designer Bethany Gupwell
Production Manager Ed Borgnis
Musical Supervisor Inga Davis-Rutter
Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon
Props Supervisor Charlotte King
Dramaturge Gillian Greer
Casting Director Annelie Powell CDG
Assistant Casting Director Alice Walters
The Stage Management team Titch Gosling, Caoimhe Regan and Rosie Bannister
Musicians Laura Browne and Philip Williams

Bronté Barbé – Kathy
Rebekah Hinds – Stella
Imelda Warren-Green – Erica+
Jodie Jacobs – Felicia+
TJ Lloyd – Justin+
Jacob Kohli – Ensemble / Swing
Sarah Pearson – Ensemble / Swing
Chelsea Hall – Swing

Francesca Moody Productions, Kater Gordon, Wessex Grove and Fiery Angel, in association with Bristol Old Vic

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