Written and performed by Lauryn Redding, Bloody Elle is not your typical coming out story. Spellbinding storytelling accompanied by a dynamic original soundtrack, this is gig theatre with a whole lot of heart.
From the moment Redding takes the stage, the audience is in the palm of her hand. In the titular role of Elle, she has an ease and charisma that is hard to deny, engaging the audience directly and creating a conversational vibe. She introduces us to her world: from her high-rise home in Oldham with its incredible views, to her job at Chips and Dips and the noughties nightlife at the local Megabowl. Aided by skilful direction from Bryony Shanahan, Redding breathes life into each of the story’s colourful characters, from the physicality of her Welsh boss and co-workers to her Patsy Stone-esque mother. The piece is very funny, but when it moves seamlessly to darker matters we go with her willingly. Redding’s delivery is so sincere, and the character so likeable, that it seems she could tell us anything.
The arrival of new colleague Eve causes Elle’s life to change forever. A girl who seems to be from a different world, Eve has travelled up from London with her family for a few months before going to study medicine at Oxford. Opposites attract, and the two begin a secretive affair, neither ready to deal with the repercussions of being open. This is a thoughtful, evocative exploration of first love and heartbreak, beautifully underscored by the show’s integral music. The exploration of class, expectation and mental health in the piece added an extra element, and perhaps could have been taken a little further.
What sets Bloody Elle apart is Redding’s high-energy performance, and the quality and use of the music. The songs themselves are superb, marrying lyricism with both narrative and raw emotion. They feel like a window to Elle’s inner self, bursting out of her, allowing her to express the emotions and feelings that she barely understands. The power of the live performance, looping riffs and vocals with pedals to build the soundscape, adds extra depth.
The main thrust of the action takes place in 2009, but both the “unprologue” and epilogue are set a decade later, with Elle able to share what happened to her since. We also get an update on Eve, which is done in a way that does not entirely mesh with the rest of the production. The message, however, is strong and earnestly delivered: be yourself, be free. Bloody Elle is a funny, heartfelt and entertaining gig that you will likely never forget.
By Deborah Klayman
Bloody Elle plays at the Soho Theatre, London until 29th July 2023, then at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 8 – 13th August 2023. Click here for tickets and more info.