Ahead of its run at the Soho Theatre, Love London Love Culture spoke to Lucy Rivers about Sinners Club and the inspiration behind the show.
Hi Lucy, thank you so much for talking to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a little bit more about the show and what it is about?
So, the premise of this show invites the audience into an intimate recording session of a new concept album by live band The Bad Mothers, and the songs they perform cover all the deadly sins; lust, jealousy, murder, greed, revenge. At the centre of the show is the tragic story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955. It isn’t a straight biopic of Ruth Ellis but more an exploration through the lead singer of The Bad Mothers of the sins we commit; the songs ask ‘do we know what are we capable of?’
How did the idea for Sinners Club come about and develop?
Gagglebabble (the company I run with Hannah McPake) have been an associate company of The Other Room in Cardiff since it opened in 2015, and it felt like, in looking to make a show together for their small space (47 seats!), I wanted to create a show that would suit the intimacy and be more ambitious and experimental with the gig-theatre style. I was also given a great opportunity to be writer-in-residence at Theatr Clwyd and they also became co-producers in the show. Between the three companies, we decided to produce and develop Sinners Club.
My first idea was to write an angry album full of great songs that could be performed in front of a live audience, and see how far the emotions of songs could engage an audience without relying on too much narrative. After some initial discussions and R&D, it became obvious that this gig-theatre show needed to find a character at its centre. I then stumbled across the tragic story of Ruth Ellis (who was born the same year as my Grandmother) and it felt like a rich character and narrative to base the album around. Ruth’s story was perfect for a show that tries to explore the terrible things we are capable of – and the reasons behind these actions.
With the songs being inspired by the life of Ruth Ellis – how much research did you have to do to help create them?
I read most if not all of the books and newspaper archives about her, and the story slightly changes in each one. This in itself is interesting because her scandal was mainly told through tabloid press and so it was very hard for her to actually tell her own story, in her own words; it was always through the tabloid filter. We may never fully know what exactly went on inside Ruth’s head. This was fine because I never wanted to present a show about exactly what happened as it happened, but what interested me about Ruth, and what I wanted to mirror in the lead singer is their journey as women. What we think of as sinful and acceptable changes over time, and Ruth was living in a time when options were very limited for women, especially from her background.
What inspired you to create Sinners Club?
Personally, I’m hugely inspired by singer/musicians like Patty Smith, PJ Harvey, Bjork, Bowie and Nick Cave; they have an enormous amount of theatre and performance in their music. Another massive influence was the brilliant documentary of the making of Nick Cave’s album Skeleton Tree called One More Time With Feeling. The film gives an incredibly honest account of the artist and the recording process, which took place in the wake of him tragically losing his son – and is an astonishing example of how powerful songs can be.
As well as bands, cabaret artists like Taylor Mac and stand up comedians also inspired this show because, like a band’s lead singer, they have this frank, intimate dialogue with their audience.
Has it been difficult to take the initial concept of the show from paper to the stage?
In some ways it was tricky because I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen a theatre show like Sinners Club so we weren’t working to any blueprint; it definitely felt slightly like we were in uncharted waters! It felt like whilst developing the play and rehearsals I had to work outside of my comfort zone, which is storytelling and narrative, and try and concentrate more on feelings and emotions and the complex dynamics between the band, the singer and the audience. I also often fell into the trap of trying to tell too much of Ruth’s story, and getting that balance of having something for the audience to grab onto and not being too prescriptive is hard! Luckily I had brilliant co-producers, an amazing creative team and a fabulous band around me feeding in ideas; by the end it felt like a real triumph of the collaborative process.
How would you describe Sinners Club for potential audiences?
At it’s heart, Sinners Club is a ferocious, awesome, rocking live gig in a very intimate setting, with a massive hit of theatricality and drama thrown in there for good measure. The show encourages an audience to take in the many facets of human nature’s darker side, and we hope the audience emerge into the world again with hope for a new start and some pretty good tunes running through their head.
What do you hope that audiences will take away from watching the show?
We hope an audience will feel moved and stirred up emotionally; they certainly did during the show’s original run. AND (merchandise plug!) if they loved the music they can quite literally take away some great songs in the form of an album.
If you were trying to convince someone to come along and see Sinners Club – what would you say?
The show contains some dark and brutal themes, but alongside that the music is hot, cathartic and passionate and there’s a lot of love and fun in the show too – we think it’s definitely a great night out, best enjoyed with a couple of drinks in the bars of Soho before and after for the complete experience.
Where would you like to see the show going in the future?
We have already performed the show as a gig in Latitude, which was great fun, so performing at more festivals would be cool. We would also like to tour the show around the UK and share The Bad Mothers love with as many people as we possibly can.
The Sinners Club will play at the Soho Theatre from the 5th to the 30th December.