I’m not the biggest fan of tribute acts. If I want to see an artist, I’ll just go and see them (my financial priorities are the subject of family debates). But some of my favourite artists are dead (e.g. Whitney Houston) so a tribute show is the closest I’ll ever get to seeing them…
Then there’s Kate Bush. She’s not dead, don’t worry – just a recluse. Her last series of live shows was her 2014 London residency, Before the Dawn, her first series of live shows since 1979. People literally waited 35 years – over a decade longer than I’ve been alive!
So, instead of wait for Kate’s possible return to the stage, I thought I’d give a tribute show a go. Which one did I choose, you wonder? The Kate Bush Experience or Moments of Pleasure? Maybe Cloudbusting?
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. I went for An Evening Without Kate Bush!
In case the title is not obvious, this is a tribute with a twist – for Kate Bush was no ordinary artist. Billed as “A chaotic cabaret cult,” we are told, “She’s not there – but you are”.
Whilst those who witnessed Kate Bush’s rare 2014 sighting tell us that Kate has outgrown some of her performative eccentricities (we’ll take their word for it, for no phones were allowed), Sarah-Louise Young hones in on all of Kate’s kooky quirks.
The opening number involved a red light; Young was hardly visible. Instead, we were soothed by her warming vocals, which are eerily close to Kate’s.
In between each song, Young spoke to the audience. She did not pretend to be Kate; she made it quite clear that she was merely a huge fan honouring her lifelong idol. Whilst some of her speeches were scripted, much of it was improvised; there was audience interaction and involvement. She even repeatedly told us that her future father-in-law was in the audience!
Young also told us that she was on Will Young’s set, to laughter from the audience (especially me, who had reviewed Young’s show days before), and she had to remember that she was standing on a raised platform or else she’d go flying.
She came down into the audience and found herself on the row with an excessive amount of legroom (if you know HOME, you know the one). She asked a few patrons their favourite Kate Bush song. One guy, who was there with his boyfriend (a “casual fan”), said ‘Cloudbusting’. Another guy, sat up in the slip seats, said ‘This Woman’s Work’. Young told her sound woman to remind her to add the latter to the set. She promised us that all of this chatter and audience interaction was not the show!
Young sometimes changed Kate’s lyrics, and other times, she just talked at the audience instead of singing at all – but no matter what she did, she had us in stitches. During ‘Army Dreamers’, she looked down at a man in the front row and replaced a lyric with, “Is this what you expected?”
One of the best performances of the night was ‘Babooshka’. She had met a Russian man who loved the song but his grandmother hated it; he’d asked her to sing it properly. So, she sang it in Russian, right down to the correct pronunciation of “Babooshka”. After the first chorus, she embarrassed a man in the audience who was apparently on his phone, later joking that he was on Google Translate. Her ability to just think on the spot was mighty impressive, and her energy was infectious.
A short while later, Young came down to collect the cute gay couple in the unofficial premiere seats, one of which had said ‘Cloudbusting’ was his favourite Kate Bush song. The stage steps at HOME are not the safest so audience members have to be taken out of the theatre to be brought onstage. Young took the ‘Cloudbusting’ fan with her but his boyfriend decided not to go. When Young realised, she went back for him! “It’s your future of your relationship,” she told him passionately.
Young then performed the beautiful song with the couple and the audience as her backing vocalists; it was a thrilling end to the first act (yes, there was more!).
It was in the second act that she performed ‘This Woman’s Work’. She began the song by looking up at the man who claimed to love that song. Hilariously, she was dressed as a cleaner, complete with a mop with a pink head.
After completing the beautiful ballad, she told us that she has loved Kate Bush since she was a child. In high school, she decided to do a Kate Bush performance during assembly but her family did not have enough money to buy her a red wig. Fortunately, her mother was a fan of Blue Peter. Young then looked down at her pink mop to trepidatious laughter from the audience. She inevitably pulled the head off of the mop and used it as a wig.
There was some more romantic audience interaction towards the end of the show. Kate spotted a couple in the front row. The man said they had been married for 40 years but his wife said it had actually only been 37. The man continued to dig a deeper hole. Eventually, Young brought the pair onstage and made them dance as she sang. The man was having the time of his life but his wife did not look best pleased. I have a feeling they’re not going to make it to 40…
Young’s penultimate performance was ‘Running Up That Hill’. She really is a soundalike! At the top of the show, Young had made a reference to the recent rediscovery of the song: “Stranger Things have happened”.
The final song of the show was, unsurprisingly, Bush’s debut single and fan favourite, ‘Wuthering Heights’. Young took awhile to start singing, pretending to be anxious. Eventually, she span the mic around and had us, the audience, sing it for her, as she performed every last iconic dance move – before singing the emotional bridge herself and then proceeding to end the show. Her ability to reach those high notes is incredibly impressive.
I honestly did not know what to expect with this show but Young still exceeded my expectations. This is certainly a show for die-hard fans, and it requires you to have, at the very least, a familiarity with Kate Bush; anyone coming to the show simply on the back of Stranger Things will be completely lost.
Like I said, I’m not a big fan of tribute concerts – but I absolutely love theatre, and this was a theatrical event, if ever there was one. It is more of a themed cabaret, or an affectionate parody, than a tribute show – and that’s what sets it apart. It is one of the funniest, wildest and most memorable shows I have ever been to – I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to!
An Evening Without Kate Bush tours the UK until October.