Murder Ballad review - September 2016

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt steals the show

Traditionally “a narrative describing the events of a murder”, Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash's Off-Broadway musical version of a murder ballad is bound to be somewhat predictable. Without giving away too much of the devilish details, it is, but Murder Ballad promises much more than a simple whodunit.

Featuring an star-studded cast, the musical follows Sara (a deliciously rocky Kerry Ellis), as she struggles between her dirty down-town love for Tom and her uptown love for husband Michael. As far as love triangles go, it's only going to end badly. Luckily, the Narrator is there to keep us in check and keep the story on track.

This UK premiere of the musical has secured a superb cast. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt steals the show as the Narrator, pairing an astounding voice with attitude and comic timing that completely hooks you in. Norman Bowman is delightful as the trouble-free poet Michael, although his voice is sometimes uncertain. And whilst Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo have equal talent in their rocky style, their chemistry is lacklustre, which causes their passionate trysts to be clunky and complicated.


Sam Yates directs with an assured hand, although having the actors dress on stage results in some clumsy changes. There's a lot of passion in the direction, and the style of the piece is crystal clear; it's a rock musical, there's a murder and yes, someone is going to die. Unfortunately, the sheer force of the style cancels out any potential moments of emotion, which doesn't let you invest in the characters.

Completely sung-through, and slightly reminiscent of Rent in that aspect, Jordan and Nash's lyrics at times end up being too far too literal. There are some strong songs in there; “Built for Longing” is a particular highlight and sees all four performers in their element, but it doesn't flow as naturally as it should.

Murder Ballad promises to be full of passion and fatal desire, which it is. But this, inevitably, is not enough and leaves you feeling a little cheated. It's well cast and well directed, but perhaps it's the material that needs re-working.


Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
30 September 2016, Arts Theatre