What songs come to mind when you hear the name Kate Bush? The hairbrush poised as a makeshift microphone, whilst you sway in the mirror to Running Up That Hill. Maybe you thrashed around your room in time with the barking symphonies of Hounds of Love. Or, you enjoyed humming the mispronounced harmonies of Babooshka. Imagine all of that encapsulated into one night of spectacular theatre. Sarah-Louise Young is fearless. Conspicuously titled “An Evening with(out) Kate Bush”, Young stars as the imitation of our leading lady. Acclaimed performer Sarah-Louise Young collaborates with theatre maker Russell Lucas to explore the music and mythology of one of the most influential voices in British music.
Young begins the show with a dark stage and just the mere illumination of a silhouette framed with a lace veil, and two bunches in her hair that are later revealed to be costume bird feathers. Kate Bush is her own art form that can’t be replicated and Young doesn’t attempt to. Instead, she owns her own super-fan title and embraces the tribute act in all of its entirety. By exploring the deepest recesses of stage production and combining both dance, mime and comedy, with the warbling melodies of Kate’s biggest (and lesser known) hits, Young creates an evening for everyone to enjoy.
I will admit, I am a Kate Bush late bloomer. As a bookish child, I imagined my first heartbreak to be as dramatic as Catherine Hernshaw clawing for Heathcliff in Emily Brontës’ Wuthering Heights, and at 18, I remember watching Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights music video for the first time and being transported to that heartbreak all over again. Nine years later, I would declare myself a super fan. However this is an evening for everyone. Ten minutes into the show, Young poses a question to the audience: Are you a Fish person (the official name for a Kate Bush super fan) or Bush novice? The answers were mixed; one audience member said that they were only there because they were looking to get away from a “Kate” and heard this was the only place she wouldn’t be tonight. Audience members were then invited to offer up their favourite Kate songs, with extra points awarded if you can croon the melody. The immersive experience surprised me and although I was silently praying to stay hidden in the dark crevices of the audience, it was pleasant to see such a welcoming crowd willing to participate and get involved with the Kate Bush appreciation. By the end of the night, strangers became good pals, mother and daughter bonds were strengthened, and if you came for a good sing song – super fan or not- you would not leave disappointed.
Described by Elton John as “an enigma”, Kate Bush creates a whole universe to dive into. Young recreates Kate’s infamous avant-garde, expressive form and carries the audience to a camp and electrifying planet derived straight from the 80s. For an hour and 15 minutes, you can escape from the hubbub upstairs in Soho Theatre and land in a unique continent complete with the original sound textures and tones. Young uses performance imagery and wacky props to combine with the melodies, and her natural, ethereal prowess instinctively moves with the flow of the audience.
During a haunting rendition of ‘Army Dreamers’, in an ode to the music video that begins with Kate’s own eyes, blinking in synchronicity with the sounds of guns cocking; the stage is coated black and Young grips a pair of oversized illuminated eyes as she wanders through the audience singing. It is a particular powerful moment during the evening as the song, effectively about a mother mourning the death of her son who had gone to fight for his country. It is vulnerable and poetic, and Young stays authentic to the context.
The evening is littered with moments like this, where Young bombards the stage with textures and tones and brings to life her own personal angle to Kate Bush’s music. I thought I was well educated in Kate’s music, knew all there was to know, bought the t-shirt and wore it until it was falling apart, but Young adds layers to the music with stories of her own personal experiences. Kate Bush is known to write from the perspective of characters, a zenith anecdote that Young wholeheartedly embraces for the night.
At the beginning of the show Young mentions her run-ins with people who have had been affected by Kate Bush in some way. She briefly touches on a story of a meeting she had with one of the cleaners at the Hammersmith Apollo during Kate Bush’s residency in 2014. This is revisited in Young’s performance of ‘This Woman’s Work’. Young performs as the reflective cleaner, mopping the stage after a Kate Bush show whilst singing the tune. It’s lightly comical as Young pretends to clean some of the audience members with the mop to melancholy beats of the song coupled with the deeply moving lyrics and the conceptualised invisibility of the cleaning workforce. It’s a layered piece and a testament to the diversity of both Kate’s music and Young’s ability to translate it into spellbinding stories for the stage.
By the end of the night, you will be crooning all of Kate’s hits on the tube.
After its smash-hit sold-out Edinburgh run, critically acclaimed chaotic cabaret cult ‘An Evening Without Kate Bush’ is to transfer to Soho Theatre, London from 18 May – 6 June.
Find out more here.