AN EVENING WITHOUT KATE BUSH
created by Sarah Louise Young and Russell Lucas
Soho Theatre – until 26 February 2022
You don’t have to be one of the Fish People (the collective noun for the community of Kate Bush fans, as well as the name of one of the beloved yet elusive diva’s albums) to enjoy this glorious one woman show: part cabaret, part tribute act, part mythology, wholly theatre. But you’ll definitely come out of it a fan of Sarah Louise Young, the shape-shifting artist who embodies and comments upon La Bush, as well as co-creating (with Russell Lucas) this cracking little show.
When Young first appears – dimly lit, shrouded in black, in a gloriously outré headdress halfway between antlers and wings, with a slight whiff of Regina Fong (that’s a person, not a fragrance: look her up if you’re young) – it seems like we might be in for a bit of Kate Bush parody: absurd, slightly self indulgent yet weirdly compelling. Bush’s combination of mystery, camp and thunderously good tunes always felt ripe for theatrical treatment and comic lambasting. What follows is more satisfying and interesting than any of that however.
In a well nigh miraculous case of having your showbiz cake and eating it, An Evening Without Kate Bush succeeds in embracing the bizarre concoction of accessible, unknowable and just plain bonkers that was always at the heart of Bush’s output while acknowledging the madness of it, sending it up, yet loving it deeply. That’s not easy to pull off. What comes across very strongly is just how haunting and so damn good these songs are: The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Babooshka, Cloudbusting et al crop up and provide thunderous and/or poignant pleasure even while you’re never quite sure what length of tongue Kate was leaving in cheek. Wuthering Heights comes up (as it must) but with a little twist. It helps that Sarah Louise Young – whether singing as herself or unerringly recreating Bush’s screechily enchanting vocal timbre – is equal to, and then some, the unique grunge/soprano demands of the songs.
Young isn’t merely a skilled Kate Bush impersonator who gets the ethereal warbles and shrieks, and loose-limbed dance moves down to a T; she is a warm, self-deprecating stage presence with a formidable physical and vocal technique. When she relates the effect that the singer songwriter had both on her own life and that of the multitude of fans she has encountered, the mood goes from gleeful to tearful to joyously celebratory before you’re even aware of the change. The section where Young strips down to bare essentials and physically interprets Running Up That Hill is genuinely moving: it becomes less about Bush’s version of the classic and more concerned with the effect it has/had on our leading lady and, by extension, all of us. As I said, it’s real theatre.
Being a Bush fan will help with some of the references of course (Young and Lucas have more than done their homework in terms of Kate’s back catalogue) but Young brings such a joie de vivre and ability to connect with an audience that nobody feels excluded. This is one of those rare occasions where audience participation feels more like a pleasure than a chore for any but the most gregarious in the crowd, and it becomes a surprisingly moving paean to community and human connection.
Ultimately, An Evening Without Kate Bush is a bit of a triumph, as clever as it is enjoyable, and capturing the compelling mix of menace, grace and camp that makes Bush so unique in British popular music: a remarkable, eccentric talent paying tribute to another remarkable, eccentric talent. In the words of one of the divine Kate’s biggest hits….WOW. Go see, and prepare to howl.