“We’re all sinners here… so come on down.”
The Sinners Club is a new play by Lucy Rivers (Wonderman, Gagglebabble); in association with Theatr Clwyd and The Other Room, which dramatises the story of Ruth Ellis, the Rhyl girl who became the last woman hanged in Britain in 1955.
This was my first time seeing a Gabblebabble production, but I should have expected something different from the Cardiff-based company that describes itself as one that is: “genre-breaking”, with theatre shows that “like to tear up the rulebook”. “The Sinners Club” told a story and demanded strong performance like many other plays, but that is where the similarities ended.
The play was presented to the audience in a recording studio where the Bad Mothers were recording their newest concept album. Between songs Lucy Rivers, the singer, gave away details and anecdotes about Ruth Ellis’ life, which; like any good “villain”, was filled with love and loss.
The Other Room was styled like a recording studio with mic stands, an in-session “recording” light bar, a sound booth with a vintage microphone and sound-proofing foam, and dotted around the room were pictures of Ruth Ellis and her husbands/boyfriends.
The Bad Mothers took us on the journey of making an album; which is a major feet in a show of around an hour and half, including switching mics, taking a short cigarette break by the fire escape, and getting critical: “do it again” from the voice-of-god producer. Speaking of, Lucy Rivers’ is a powerhouse vocalist who filled the room with songs reminiscent of the rock-ballads of the 1970’s. This play is an uninhibited, immersive, energetic and multi-faceted collaboration between many theatrical and musical genres. The title track: “The Sinners Club” has an all-that-Jazz feeling while “Smash it All” reminded me of a Paramore-Nightwish hybrid, but my personal favourite was the ode to the country gals with: “Carolyn”.
The musical journey correlates to the narrative one with a coherent and enunciated beginning making way for more chaotic tracks that lash out and merge into a cloud of fogginess, like a descent into paranoia towards the end. Whether intentional or not I noticed that a light shown a crack that gradually grew over the largest picture of Ruth Ellis as her final days were played out in the narrative which was incredibly poignant. Throughout the piece, projections of old newspaper headlines about Ruth cover the walls and you wonder about how this divisive character must have been feeling.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first encounter with Gagglebabble and am so excited for further works and developments from Rivers, who shows herself as an incredibly confident, gifted and passionate artist.
After the show the audience had an opportunity to ask questions from the cast and hear more about the creative process of piecing this show together. I have included some of the discussions and comments from the audience below.
Here, Lucy Rivers described the beginnings of the project:
“My love is music. I write songs for other people’s shows and [many of] the songs in this show were written years ago as songs that I [originally] thought would form a concept album. I decided that that I didn’t want that, I wanted to perform these songs. I believe that if you wait then the right idea will come to you and I eventually came across Ruth’s story. That was the beginning; I knew I wanted to tell her story using my songs.”
The audience spoke at length about how captivating they found the performance and the way it was presented in a recording studio instead of a gig. Here, Rivers explains her inspiration behind this format:
“Nick Caves docu-drama: ‘One more time with feeling’ was a major influence for this play. I was so emotional about it and I told [our Director] Titus [Halder] ‘you HAVE to see this’. He came to me afterwards and said that we should base the play in a recording studio and I just said: ‘Genius!’, that was it!” I was interested in the casts view of Ruth Ellis as many of the other audience members were, but it turns out that her story bares resemblance to the lives of contemporary women:
“Any of us could be Ruth. She had choices but they were hard ones, and her life could have been so much different. There are feminist issues that still unfortunately exist today, controversy around Abortion… abuse, and her past that perhaps made people feel a certain way, I don’t know?”
When asked about the future Rivers said:
“We’re hoping to take the show to Latitude Festival this year and we’re keen to keep developing with our associates in The Other Room and Theatr Clwyd. And on Tuesday we’re filming the performance!”