It’s a beautiful evening in Covent Garden and Iris Theatre’s Summer Festival is in full swing. Surrounded by fabulous flowers and greenery, it’s an absolutely fabulous place. Tonight I’m seeing The Red Side of the Moon, a two-hander musical, written by Zoe Woodruff, with music and lyrics by Kathryn Tindall, who also plays one of the roles.
The show starts with a bang, as we’re introduced to the lovely Ellen (Tindall). She’s a small-town girl, with no great ambition even though she has masses of talent as a folksy singer-songwriter. This girl has the voice of an angel, but works behind the bar in a pub, only stepping forward to fill the open mic spot following a cancellation. It’s here she’s spotted by Beth (Elinor Peregrin) who is instantly smitten, and soon persuades her that they should team up and tour together. A romance between the two soon ensues as they follow a music career. But, on the brink of success, it’s suggested that making their relationship public would cause scandal and ruin their chance of success. Ellen decides to walk away, whilst Beth goes on alone and hits the heights of stardom.
Early in the performance, Peregrin’s fabulous rendition of ‘Whisky in the Jar’ really gets the audience going. We clap along ready for a big night out. Indeed, both actresses have fabulous voices and their incredible, honeyed harmonies are absolutely delicious to hear in the warm summer evening air. There is no denying their musical talent, with songs that are carefully crafted fine pieces of music. I could come to this show to enjoy the music on its own! And in some ways that might have been a better option. The dramatic narrative is too simple: it’s a kind of ‘wind beneath my wings’ tale, but really just a vehicle for the beautiful songs to hang from. The relationship portrayed is not an exciting, climactic one; it’s just nice. But, with no great height of drama reached from which Beth can tumble from grace, her torment has less impact. That fabulous start with the audience joining in is never replicated and most of the other songs, although excellent, are quite melancholy or balladlike.
It’s not helped that the story is a little confusing in places: suddenly there’s a tour and possible album at risk, but there’s no clear lead up to this. Further, the premise that being in a lesbian relationship will cause a scandal is never really resolved with any spirit. Come the end, Beth says she’s now happy in her skin, but it doesn’t feel like either of them have done anything to change the world’s perspective – in fact they’ve run away from threat instead of challenging it, and it’s rather a wasted opportunity to make a strong point.
In some ways the beautiful outdoor surroundings also worked against the show, as with no lighting changes it’s difficult to give texture. Some costume changes might have added to the sense of Beth turning into an out of control pop star on drugs, but instead she stayed the same throughout, in dungarees and a plaid shirt, so again there was a lack of highs and lows.
However, simple narrative and dramatic niggles aside, The Red Side of the Moon is a very pleasant, easy-going production, offering an enjoyable way to spend an evening. If you’re a fan of live music and keen to sit out on a warm night, get yourself over to the Iris Theatre Festival, buy a drink and appreciate this immensely talented duo.
Written by: Zoe Woodruff
Music and lyrics by: Kathryn Tindall
Directed by: Priya Patel Appleby
Produced by: Iris Theatre
The Red Side of the Moon plays untli 17 July. Further information and booking via the below link.