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Monday, November 28, 2022

An Evening Without Kate Bush review: Jokey karaoke for die-hards only

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ou don’t have to be a Kate Bush devotee to enjoy Sarah-Louise Young’s polished, slender show… oh, wait, actually you do. Part tribute act, part standup skit, part fangirl monologue, it sees Young bend her own impressive vocals round some of the singer-songwriter’s eclectic hits, occasionally hauling punters onstage to help. Since Bush albums can take an age to arrive, and she undertook just one headline tour in 1979, and a 22-night residency at Hammersmith Apollo in 2014, Young is filling a gap for the faithful.

Her voice is fine and powerful, just missing the top and bottom notes of Bush’s extraordinary range as she works her way through Wow, Army Dreamers, and Running Up That Hill. There’s a version of Babushka in Russian and some gentle mockery. “These are the actual lyrics!” she says of the word-salad that is Cloudbusting. Bush’s video choreography is broken down into six constituent parts, including a move called Champagne Whipcrack.

Young, a stalwart of the cabaret circuit, mocks herself as well as Bush’s hippy, folky side. “Forty-six years old,” she mutters grimly, stripping to a red unitard and donning a Vileda mop-head as a wig to recreate her own performance of James and the Cold Gun at her Scottish school’s assembly. Don’t know that one? It was the song EMI wanted to release as Bush’s first single onto a scene dominated by prog and punk in 1978: Bush, then 19, insisted on the yowling, hooting, unashamedly literary Wuthering Heights with a video full of wafty dance, the first sign she would always resolutely plough her own furrow.

When the show – created with director Russell Lucas – turns to the woman behind the music, its thinness becomes apparent. We learn that Bush was born in Kent, that she was the first female to top the British charts with a song she wrote herself, and that she invented the modern headset microphone. Well thank you, Wikipedia. The rest of the narrative is made up of real or imagined conversations with Bush impersonators, the woman who cleaned the stage at her Hammersmith Apollo residency, and mad, obsessive fans across the world, who call themselves The Fish People.

Disclaimer: I think Bush is a genius and her hits are embedded in my cerebral cortex. But she’s banned in my house because my wife thinks she’s “a bit panto”. I’ve not listened to a whole album since I was at university and I certainly wouldn’t know what Matthew Perry’s favourite tune from her oeuvre is (it’s Don’t Give Up, apparently). I don’t like tribute acts and hate audience participation.

Let’s not beat about the bush: this slice of jokey karaoke theatre is undoubtedly for the die-hards, and there’s probably enough of them to keep Young in wigs and batwing dancewear for a while on the cabaret circuit. The rest of us, even sort-of fans, may struggle to see the point.

Soho Theatre, until 26 Feb; sohotheatre.com

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