Soaked in the sway of sex, borne along on a radiance of double entendres, this study of three hard-done-by women who board in a rooming house above a jazz club is structured around a song cycle of blues. Dialogue serves mainly as a bridge between the tunes-music provides the central narrative thrust. The three ages of women are represented by the trio of actresses: Sharon D. Clarke the wise elder, bowed but not entirely defeated by a lifetime of regret and misery; Debbie Kurup a good-time gal moving inexorably into the latter seams and stages of weary experience; Gemma Sutton a recent arrival, fresh but well on her way to the first sup of disappointment and disillusion, innocence inevitably on its way to sully.
Clive Rowe is on hand (in somewhat pantomime form) as the master of ceremonies of the club, and as the token face of toxic masculinity, signalling all of men’s egregious indignant behaviour towards women, their endless manipulations, injustices and defilements. The club stage-smoky, louche, loose-atmospherically dominates the set (with bar and staircase/lift anchoring the back, the orchestra and small dance floor thrust to the front), a disrepute around which the womens’ cramped rooms, like satellites, orbit.
Clarke is the most magisterial in connecting with the messy emotions of the material (classic standards by such luminaries as Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen) whether soul shaking, feisty, lusty or frivolous-she continuously digs deep. Kurup brings a poised, wounded brass (although at times chilly technical precision) to her pieces. Sutton sings with a tremulous fear in her voice, the terrible knowledge that her hopeful ideals will be ultimately trampled.
Despite the dispossession and disenfranchisement, the ways in which the world has conspired to belittle them, these women still find a way to rally themselves, shout out with vigour and verve and robust allure, inexhaustible sensuality. The blues, and their expression of it, will sustain and ennoble them through the worst as long as they are able. The audience will take flight, through the tears and joy, with them. Blues in the Night runs through 7 September