Leaving London, one of the things I’ve missed the most was the abundance of theatre. There’s no denying that the cultural scene has improved outside of the capital in recent years. The continuing success of Chichester Festival Theatre, the Leicester Curve and Manchester International Festival prove that the provinces DO care about culture. For its relatively small size, Cardiff enjoys a disproportionate amount of culture led by established venues like the Millennium Centre and the Sherman Theatre. What most cities lack are the small fringe venues and theatre pubs that really push the limits. They offer drama outside of the centre, on a smaller scale. For a company like The Other Room to emerge in Cardiff is a promising sign indeed and Sinners Club proved a promising start to the season.
Sinners Club forms part of their Spring Outliers season., a co-production between the Other Room theatre company, Mold’s Theatr Clwyd and Gaggle Babble. Staged in The Other Room’s intimate space in a side room of Porter’s (opposite the Motorpoint). The space is probably the same as one floor of a small 2 Up 2 Down miner’s terrace but can fit up to 44 people. For Sinners Club, there are two rows of seats around the room with gaps for the band. presumably most of the action is to take place in the centre. Intimate is an understatement. Arriving late and slightly flustered thanks to some unexpected traffic, we ended up sat in the front row which would inevitably result in audience participation (initial anxiety was not misplaced). Mark Bailey’s design sees the venue as a recording studio, complete with a recording booth in the corner. The only other adornments are some neon lights and scattered pics of the last woman hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis.
The play started as the band tuned up. The writer and lead actress of the play Lucy Rivers swaggers into the room in some oversized sunglasses. Without much introduction the music starts. More gig than theatre, Sinners Club bears a tonal resemblance to Rivers’ other work with Gagglebabble. Fictional band, The Bad Mothers are recording a live concept album about the aforementioned Ruth Ellis and the audience has been invited to watch (and participate in) the recording. So far, so meta. Over the 90 minute run time, we get insight into the tragic story of Ruth Ellis through song lyrics and spoken interludes. It’s a fascinating tale. Ellis is a relic of a time gone by, largely forgotten by the public – but at the time was sensationalised by a sexist press like a glammier Aileen Wuornos.
The Bad Mothers are a passable band, the players are more than capable and Lucy Rivers as the singer has a gutsy, bluesy tone to her strong rock voice. Not at all musical theatre, Sinners Club is definitely more gig-theatre. The music itself reminded me of mid-2000s indie favourites Howling Bells’ bluesy-grungey art rock. I’d like to get my hands on a recording of the music as it’s too hard to take in a whole set of new songs on first listen. Standouts were a surreal moment involving a fable about a bird leaving home with an elaborately feathered, Maleficent referencing costume. The other standout was Carolyn, a country infused number complete with cowboy hats and mandolin, – a close relation to that other classic scorned woman country jam Jolene.
Rivers herself is obviously very talented – multi instrumentalist, composer, writer and singer. Through the 90 minutes, the lines between Ruth Ellis and her unnamed singer blur as the drama crescendos with Ellis’ inevitable demise. It’s not a light watch, and the rather hard seats (and lack of interval) took meant those 90 minutes took their toll on me physically and mentally. The parallel plotline between the unseen producer and the singer was a bit harder to swallow than the Ruth Ellis story – it just felt a bit unnecessary and clunky. That said, we did go on a preview night and the Cardiff run leads up to another run in Theatr Clwyd so this could be ironed out.
Ultimately, Sinners Club’s intimate gig-theatre was worth seeing for Rivers’ performance alone, but the snapshot of a darker time in British history was a welcome bonus and a timely reminder of the Establishment’s heavy handed justice.
Sinners Club runs at The Other Room at Porter’s until Saturday 18th February, then at Theatr Clwyd, Mold from 2nd to 18th March.
Run Time 90 minutes
Writer Lucy Rivers
Director Titas Halder
Designer Mark Bailey