REVIEW: ‘SINNERS CLUB’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

“A clever and interesting production fronted by an incredible musical talent…”
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Fresh from the magic and wonder of ‘Wonderman’ at the Tramshed in 2016, ‘Rock and Roll Theatre’ production company Gagglebabble are back: this time at The Other Room, a pub theatre making a mark in Cardiff as an edgy hub of experimental, cutting edge theatre.
Partnering with Theatr Clwyd, a company keen to push the boundaries with their productions, this ‘gin-soaked blood and guts’ production kicks off The Other Room’s ‘Outliers’ season.
Exploring the dark underbelly of human nature, the production aims to tell the story of Ruth Ellis the last woman in the UK (originally from Rhyl) to be hanged.
Lead actor, singer, musician and composer (phew!) Lucy Rivers is the first writer in residence for Theatr Clwyd and she, along with band ‘The Bad Mothers’  have created an interactive stop-start ‘live recording session’ experience. 

From the start the scene is set, the audience are ushered into the tiny smoky space, resembling a living room-come-recording studio.  We witness the preparation for the session, the banter between the band and the studio manager’s voice directing the session.
The space is deliberately compact; audience members will feel at times they are eyeball to eyeball with the singer.  It feels intensely personal and almost uncomfortably  intrusive and this potency and crossing of the boundaries is actively encouraged and played with throughout the piece.  
Audience members help deliver lines, help Rivers with costume changes and even help her take off her boots.  Later, another audience member is given a musical instrument to play and the band pass around a bowl of turkish delight after Rivers has a bit of a wobble and the ‘recording session’ takes a break.  

A very loose chronology unfolds of the life of Ruth Ellis. But where her story and the story of other women untangle themselves didn’t really become clear to me. At times I wasn’t sure whose story was whose and details of the different stories clashed or contradicted themselves. Was this Ruth’s story or someone else’s?  I never claimed to be the quickest off the mark and my brain may have been fried by 9 hours of office time beforehand but…I struggled a bit. 
There was one passing line in reference to Ruth Ellis being from Rhyl, but the production focuses on human relationships in the main.  I would have enjoyed a bit more detail / exploration of Ruth’s identity as a Welsh woman and her ‘trial by press’, though there are extracts and snippets of pictures/clips here and there in the audio visuals and soundtrack.  Her experience could have been anywhere but it could have been interesting to pick up on these elements, too.  
Between the compelling and beautifully crafted musical score, Katy Morison’s lighting, the costume changes, the sound effects, asides and audience jokes, the mini in-between scenes, the projections and the video, it might be difficult for some audience members to follow in places.  
The play does very successfully embody the spirit of a true recording session – at times you feel as though you are in an actual drama or at a jazz club, but I can’t hand on heart say I felt like I truly appreciated or understood the true character or true story of Ruth Ellis.

I think what the production does manage to do well is to use Ruth Ellis as a posterchild/an example of the wronged woman, the rebel, the slut, the non-conformer, the loose woman.  She embodies the fear, distrust and objectification of women.  Women like Ruth Ellis are interesting not only because of the crimes they have committed but because they have deviated so very far from the gender-specific norms and usual trajectory of the ‘wife and mother’ that is part of the status quo even now.  
We all have wickedness and weaknesses within us, this was a theme throughout Sinners Club.  These themes are wonderfully weaved into the songs, supported and lifted by The Bad Mothers, who help add richness and depth to the experiences in the play with their moody riffs and melodies.
How well Sinners Club translates the ‘voice’ or experience of Ruth Ellis, I can’t truly say, but one thing that was the absolute driving force of this production was the sheer un self-conscious magnetism and watchability of Lucy Rivers, who commands the attention of everyone in the room at all times.

This was not quite the play to watch after a long day at work or if you have any sort of aversion to strobe lighting (I had to close my eyes tightly as my eyes couldn’t take it!), BUT this really is a clever and interesting production fronted by an incredible musical talent.  
For most people this will not feel like the type of  lazy ‘switch off and smile’ theatre you might have grown comfortable with – this is theatre that challenges you and forces you to question what it is you’re watching, to ask questions of it and yourself.  This is something Gagglebabble are really good at producing and based on what I have seen so far – the ‘gig-theatre’ approach is never dull or routine.  It is basically a theatre version of a bag of Revels.
This was an amazing start to The Other Room’s ‘Outliers’ Spring 2017 season and now that this tiny theatre with a big presence has won ‘Best Theatre of the Year’ at the 2016 Stage Awards and a clutch of other prizes at the Welsh Theatre Awards, I really can’t wait to see what comes next. Expect more great things from these guys…
Type of show:   Theatre
Title:   Sinners Club
Venue:   The Other Room, Porters (Cardiff)
Dates:   7th – 24th February (PN 9th Feb)
Writer/Composer:   Lucy Rivers
Directed by:  Titas Halder
Singer:   Lucy Rivers
Band:   The Bad Mothers
Lighting Designer:   Katy Morison
Sound Designer:   Sam Jones
Video and Projection:   Nic Finch
Running time:   1hr 45min (approx)
Produced by:   Gagglebabble / Theatr Clwyd / The Other Room

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