That Bloody Woman by Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper, directed by Kip Chapman
That Bloody Woman doesn’t let up for a second, and I’m not just talking about Esther Stephen’s driven and slightly terrifying Kate Sheppard: Gospel, rock, blues, punk, and a great live band on stage propel the show forward with such energy that it would be impossible for your attention to drift elsewhere, even if you wanted it to, which you don’t. This is a really fun show, noisy but not so much as to cause actual ear damage, with some terrific original songs and a great cast.
Amy Straker opens the show with sass and confidence and her solo, ‘My Husband and My Friend’ is a highlight. Phoebe Hurst has great comic timing and the most amazing voice which steals the show. Kyle Chuen and Cameron Douglas play lots of flawed male characters with enthusiasm, and Geoffrey Dolan, sporting an excellent beard, plays Richard ‘King Dick’ Seddon as a rapping pantomime villain draped in furs with such relish that the audience love every moment he is on stage.
Esther Stephens seems to be in a slightly different show. At first dressed in late Victorian costume, she is literally more physically constrained than the rest of the cast. Later, she tears off the skirt to reveal tight white pants, but even then she is still a bit of a puritan; not drinking, keeping up appearances, and for someone leading a punk gang, she seems a bit serious when everyone else is, to a great extent, playing it for laughs. Her Kate Sheppard is determined, a bit chippy, and it is only when she sings for the death of her son whom she feels she neglected, that we feel she really lets us in.
This is more down to the script than Esther, I think. The show is all about Sheppard, to the degree that only she and Seddon are named in the programme. Unfortunately it means that the character of Kate Sheppard ends up a bit focused on Kate Sheppard and her trials, which limits Stephen’s choices in characterisation and makes the character harder to warm to. It also gives some scenes the worthiness of seventies agitprop, exacerbated by the broad brush characterisation of the supporting cast, painting all women as good/resilient/hard-done-by and all men as violent/exploitative/weak.
The premise, set up in the first scenes, is that Sheppard has returned because her legacy is being wasted. This is followed through a little with a couple of jokes relating to recent minor political scandals involving ponytails etc., and a song, but there is potential for more. There is a wonderful theatrical moment when the bill is passed – Rachel Walker has done a sterling job with the sets – and if the momentum could only be kept up to lead into something more, the show could perhaps fulfil the promise of the beginning and take us into unchartered territory that inspires us forward, instead of doing what their Sheppard exhorts us not to do, which is rest on the laurels of an event a hundred years past.
I am quibbling a little. I think there is a great show in here, it’s just the panto undermines the political seriousness a little, and vice versa, and somehow the focus on Kate makes it harder to get a sense of the real Kate Sheppard too, who was focused outside herself. However, the F***! song is hilarious and delivered perfectly, that damn Seddon number is still in my head, and I just hope I don’t start singing ‘Tricky Dicky’ to myself in public. I could see the show’s MD and composer Luke di Somma murmuring along with the songs and thought if the audience knew the numbers better, we would all be at it. Director Kip Chapman has put together a satisfyingly-shaped show that pushes onto the climax, is visually and aurally exciting, and has brought out utterly committed performances from the cast (and band), all of whom completely deserve the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end.
credit: Michael Smith