Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)

August 22nd-24th, 23.10

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

It’s 23.10, and we’re entering the twilight hours of the Fringe. What does any good Festival goer need as a nightcap for this hour? How about a strong dose of murder… Throw in some dark humour, terrifying stage combat and a hint of madness, and you’ve got yourself a five star show in the shape of Murder Ballads.

The tone is instantly set, as we are welcomed and ushered to our seats by our four strong cast, transporting us to O’Malleys Bar, West Texas. Thomas Galashan and Laura Connelly expertly improvising witty remarks and throwaway lines based on the audience and their reaction – and we know from the get-go, we’ve got a fun night ahead.

Our narrator, Tom Wilson, begins the nights proceedings, and swiftly and deftly carries us through an hour of dark tales centred around ‘Stagger Lee’ and the many murders connected with him. We encounter many characters, all portrayed by Galashan and Connelly, with a change of costume or props – but with such clear characterisations, an audience could easily identify them in an identity parade.

The musical, adapted from the titular album by Nick Cave and the Seeds, has been cleverly created by Gerry Smyth, who also performs a beautiful simple role from the back of the stage, accompanying the cast throughout, with the occasional grunt, which has the audience in hysterics.  Although I was a stranger to the music entering the theatre, I left singing lines from various numbers – a testament to not only the music, but the ingenious adaptation.

It’s somewhat expected from a Fringe show, that a small cast will perform countless roles, as performers and stagehands, and even sometimes musicians. But this is part of the beauty of Murder Ballads – not only do our talented quartet cover a multitude of characters, they also accompany each other on various instruments, dress the set, dress each other. It’s a masterclass in staging and direction, and director Ellie Hurt has outdone herself in highlighting the cast’s skills.

Beware sitting in the front row, or splash zone, as it should be labelled – the wonderful cast are working particularly hard, so expect a little spray in this perfectly intimate venue. And don’t be put off by the slightly slower start to this high octane hour – the opening number is a necessity to the storytelling. Once it’s out of the way, the show kicks up a gear into a high octane, all guns blazing spectacle that should be seen by all audiences.

It’s difficult to highlight any one performer, with Galashan giving a stellar performance in his many roles, both hilarious and terrifying, but it’s Laura Connelly who (yet again!) has me bent over double with her magnificent character portrayals. From crazy bird lady, to deceivingly sweet little Lottie, her ability to embody a role and bring it to life is utterly mesmerising. Add in a stunning vocal performance and a whole heap of natural comedy, and Connelly is a shining beacon at this year’s Festival. Paired with Galashan, they are an unstoppable force in this musical.

With a little rebranding and a better time slot, I think Murder Ballads could be the number one show to see at the Fringe this year – it does everything right, and for an original stage adaption, I defy anyone not to have a killer time with this stupendous cast.

Chris O’Mara

Twitter @aramoc