I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a little theatre during the pandemic. Press were invited to a performance of The Believers Are But Brothers just before the November lockdown. After that, I didn’t review another show until Opera North’s A Night at the Opera last month – which was worth the wait.
But seeing Bloody Elle was particular exciting.
Even more exciting – it was my first ever Royal Exchange press night! I see lots of shows at the Royal Exchange, but previously I’ve always allowed my writers to do the reviews, so it was lovely to do a review for myself.
But before that, I want to answer that burning question that is on a lot of theatregoers minds: What’s it like seeing theatre in a pandemic?
Theatre in the time of Covid
Well, theatres still have to operate with social distancing in place, though that looks likely to end this month. Whilst guests are told to keep their masks on in the auditorium, not everybody did. The staff at the Royal Exchange might have done a better job at getting people to keep their masks on, which would have made the rest of us feel a lot more safe and comfortable.
Some staff were policing where people had their drinks, so they might have put a bit of that energy into getting people to keep their masks on. I did find it a little odd that you could drink in the auditorium and the cafe (where everybody is sat close together) but not anywhere else in the theatre (where people can properly social distance). Does Covid only spread in the main part of the building?
These weird, contradictory Covid regulations are not exclusive to the Royal Exchange, or even theatres, though – they’re everywhere! Whilst they’re a little frustrating, you just have to put up with them if you want to enjoy normal life – and if theatres required guests to wear latex gloves and safety goggles to attend their shows, you can bet I would!
(Yes, this subtitle is a play on the Gabriel García Márquez novel).
Let me start off by saying that it took me way too long to understand why the show is called Bloody Elle. I’d been surprised by the show’s description – this doesn’t sound like a story that ends in murder, I thought.
It wasn’t until Act 2 that it dawned upon me: Bloody Hell.
As in, Bloody Hell, that didn’t half take me a long time…
Speaking of the description – it didn’t quite sell the show to me. I’d debated whether to see the show for awhile. I’m not usually a fan of comedy, romance or one-person shows, and I’m selective about both gig musicals and queer theatre, but after being invited, I decided to go along to support the Royal Exchange after an incredibly difficult time.
After seeing the show, I can now tell you that Bloody Elle is bloody brilliant; I am so glad I saw it and can’t believe that I almost missed out on this comedic, musical delight.
I wasn’t sure if a gig musical would work at the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round theatre, but it was silly of me to doubt them because anyone who goes to the Royal Exchange regularly knows that they can pull anything off.
The stage was utilised well. Lauryn Redding had a few microphones at different sides of the stage. She also had a mic attached to her so that she could walk around the circular stage – so everybody could see her face.
I liked that there were tables and chairs on the stage; those audience members must have felt very involved in the action. The stools, however – must of which did not have backs – looked very uncomfortable. The mere thought of sitting on them for over two hours gives me a bad back.
Before the show began, the relatively new Co-artistic Directors, Bryony Shanahan (who my Deputy, Dolly Busby, interviewed earlier this year) and Roy Alexander Weise, welcomed us to the show. They told us that this is the busiest the theatre has been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Shanahan directed this play, which was written by and stars Lauryn Redding.
Redding was absolutely phenomenal. Her writing, acting and singing were all exceptional. Her comedic delivery was spot-on. The writing masterfully blends comedy, tragedy, drama and music. Redding wrote and portrayed many different characters, all of which were distinct and fleshed-out.
The show incorporates different genres, themes and issues. At its core, it could be seen as a coming-of-age, lesbian love story, but it also tackles themes such as class, family, aspiration and loss. The show (and its many themes) operates as a microcosm for wider society, which is currently permeated by a wide array of different issues.
It is for this reason that no matter what your identity, there is surely a part of the show that you can identify with. But even if you do not recognise part of yourself in the show, Redding’s beautiful writing, acting and singing are sure to evoke empathy and understanding.
If it isn’t obvious, I definitely recommend Bloody Elle, even if, like me, it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.
Especially if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea…
Bloody Elle plays at the Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 17th July.