Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder: ‘We’re two northerners singing about true crime’

Yasmin Rufo,BBC News, @YasminRufo

grey placeholderPamela Raith  Bex Hinds and Bronté BarbéPamela Raith

Actress Bex Hinds, who plays Stella, says she is excited to bring a musical about northerners to the West End

The theatre landscape is changing. A few decades ago, the West End was packed with classic musicals and Shakespeare adaptations, but now they’re making way for a new type of show.

Enter Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder, a musical about two true crime podcast-obsessed friends who find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery.

“We’re two northerners singing about true crime, we really didn’t think it would make it to the West End,” says Bronté Barbé who plays Stella.

Her co-star Bex Hinds is equally as excited about “bringing northern female voices to the stage”, particularly as it is the first time Hull has featured as the setting for a West End musical.

“People really feel seen as a result of this show and that’s amazing especially as stories of people from Hull are rarely the main plot of a play or in big musicals,” Hinds tells the BBC.

Olivier award-winning producer, Francesca Moody, who also produced Fleabag, says that because the show is about a pair of outsiders, it “feels even more rewarding to be bringing greater representation to the stage with this musical”.

grey placeholderPamela Raith  Bex Hinds and Bronté BarbéPamela Raith

Kathy and Stella are two misfits who became friends over their shared love for true-crime

The characters of Kathy and Stella “haven’t found their way in life and don’t really fit in,” according to Barbé.

The audience meet the pair eight years into recording a true-crime podcast in Kathy’s mum’s garage.

Despite the lack of listeners, they live and breathe the podcast and become even more obsessed with crime when their favourite author is murdered.

Naturally the pair take it upon themselves to investigate.

“And it all unravels from there,” Barbé says laughing.

As well as it being about two outsiders, the musical also touches on a number of other themes.

“It’s so jam packed with ideas and storylines, it’s not about one particular thing,” explains Hinds.

Of course one of the central themes is people’s obsession with true crime.

“I think people are fascinated by the psychology of a criminal mind and trying to understand how someone turns into a monster,” says Barbé.

For Hinds, the love that Kathy and Stella share for true crime is actually “more about finding a community that you can belong in and a safe space as opposed to just learning about murderers”.

‘We pass the Bechdel test’

While most musicals feature a strong romantic love story, one of the biggest themes in this show is platonic love.

“My friends are the loves of my life and so it feels right to be championing platonic friendship that can be some of the strongest and steadiest love in your life,” Hinds says.

“And it means we pass the Bechdel test,” adds Barbé laughing.

A movie passes the Bechdel Test if there are at least two named female characters that have a conversation with one another about something other than a man.

Unusually, this story about a friendship between two millennial women was actually written by two men – Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones.

Moody says some people “can’t get their head around the fact it was written by men” but both Barbé and Hinds have worked on the script with the writers to “create these really authentic women”.

grey placeholderPamela Raith  PerformancePamela Raith

The musical explores themes including friendship, belonging and love

‘Held together with Sellotape’

The play started its life in 2022 at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and was a “pandemic project” according to producer Francesca Moody.

It has since been “scaled up and made bigger and better” for runs at the Bristol Old Vic and Manchester’s Home.

In its previous Manchester run, the Guardian’s Clare Brennan awarded the show four stars and said it delivers “power ballads and comic routines with physical and musical dexterity”.

The Evening Standard’s Tim Bano said it was “one of the most fun shows at the Fringe” last year and gave it four stars.

Talking about how much of the play has changed for its West End run, Barbé says that “we’ve been able to flesh out some of the characters more, but also there are some bits that are identical to how they were day one of the Fringe festival”.

When the show started it had a run time of 70 minutes and now, with a running time of over two hours, Hinds says “it’s been great to add bits back in that we once had to cut”.

“Nothing has been crowbarred in and these aren’t random fillers, they are wonderful bits that we didn’t ever want to get rid of but had to.”

Moody adds that even though “we’ve gone bigger” the show “hasn’t lost the silliness of small theatre” and “is still being held together with Pritt Stick and Sellotape.”

grey placeholderPamela Raith  PerformancePamela Raith

The musical was originally a “pandemic project” and was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe

And Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder is not the only British musical having a moment in the spotlight.

Critics have raved about Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) – a new rom com musical about two twenty-something strangers meeting ahead of a wedding has impressed critics.

Other brand new musical comedies to hit the West End soon include Jack Godfrey’s pop ode to being a teenager, Babies which has already gathered a cult following in its previous run.

“What’s lovely is that it doesn’t feel like a competition between us all but instead it’s a moment for us all to celebrate how amazing this is,” says Hinds.

Moody agrees and thinks it is an exciting time to be a British musical and adds that these shows are a product of “younger producers coming to the West End with fresh ideas”.

“Some of these ideas would have never been considered before, but now there’s a real drive to attract a new audience and show that theatre isn’t an elitist experience, it’s for everyone.”

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