Blues in the Night at Hackney Empire
Sunday’s two showings of Blues in the Night brought the Hackney Empire a solid blues score and some genuinely scorching numbers. Set in Chicago in 1939, the musical was a back-to-basics, straight-up blues performance.
Hackney’s opulent stage was set up with three hotel rooms and a bar. As the show started the lights went down, smoke hung in the air and shadowy figures started moving around onstage. When the lights came up the audience were greeted by the four main characters, played by Sharon D Clarke, Clive Rowe, Emi Wokoma and Nikki Davis-Jones, all looking dressed up to the nines, even in their dressing gowns.
Each of the three women’s voices were perfectly pitched for harmonising; Sharon D Clarke’s deep and luscious voice contrasting sharply with Nikki Davis-Jones’ soprano. The musical is a simple sung story of three heartbroken women, interspersed with the bawdy blues of the hotel saloon singer.
Sharon D Clarke was the strongest and most convincing character. Looking back at her memories and trying on old dancing costumes, she was proud but mournful, and funny but mocking. Emi Wokoma, with her contralto voice and sexual energy, seemed less embittered and experienced than Sharon’s characterisation. Nikki’s part again seemed younger, she was Olivia Newton-John at the beginning of Grease: confused, drunk and slightly annoying.
The three singing parts have been interpreted as representing the three stages of womanhood. If they do this is a stymied interpretation; each woman is hanging off her memories of a good-for-nothing man. Some 30 years since its first showing, the original script and songs showed rather archaic ideas about relationships between men and women.
Blues in the Night wasn’t the most progressive or original show, but it was beautifully executed. The band, including piano, drums, double bass, sax and trumpet, also picked up a flute and oboe for extra pizazz. The staging and singing were blues to a T, and made it a great night.
Listen to the Hackney Empire’s Blues in the Night podcast here: