There seem to be an unusually high number of shows that fall loosely under the bracket of ‘country’ at this year’s fringe, but this is likely to be the only one with such a gleefully twisted approach to manslaughter. Using the 1996 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album of the same name as its springboard this production is a blackly comedic, and somewhat irreverent, reinvention of the source material. To describe the record as a cult classic would be doing its success (and infamy) something of a disservice, but it certainly has its fanatics and adapting it is not for the feint hearted.
Adopting a darkly humorous tone serves the show well and it thankfully avoids any whiff of tribute act, or any slavish re-enactment of Cave’s delivery and appearance. Some songs, such as The Curse of Millhaven, become highlights in unexpected ways, whilst the iconic Where The Wild Roses Grow is almost thrown away in jest. The graver moments could perhaps have been delivered more straightly at times and there is a sense that the show is afraid to completely ‘go there’. Each death (and there are many) is undercut with an almost immediate comedic salve which, enjoyable in the moment, make it hard to feel an emotional connection with the brutality of the story. An audience who choses to see a show titled Murder Ballads can surely not be surprised to see something nasty, but perhaps that is the knowing twist in its tale – that you leave amused and entertained rather than disturbed. Certainly there is more than a dash of wry humour buried in the source material to mine from too.
The performances are uniformly fantastic with the sole, frequently murdered, female cast member in particular giving it 110%. The sheer energy and chaos on stage by the final act is something to behold. Whether you are drawn to it by the music or dragged there by a friend, this is a show that should hit the spot for both fans of the album and strangers to the material – a clever and unique reworking that pays homage without being weighted down by deference.
All words by Susan Sloan.