Review by Nigel Smith
KAREOKE Tales is a one-act play written and performed by Steffi Sweeney, co-founder of theatre company Wives’ Tales, who have a residency at Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre.
A biographical work, Karaoke Tales introduces us to a host of members of Sweeney’s family, using each of their signature Karaoke song choices as a vehicle to open up their personalities.
Utterly spellbinding from the outset, the show is paced to perfection under the keen-eyed direction of Kate Treadell. The momentum never slackens throughout the 60 minutes onstage, and the work has a real sense of structure, despite the glorious randomness of some of its content.
Sweeney has an immensely engaging performance style, and her timing is as razor sharp as the humour that’s laced through the entire piece. But as well as being laugh-out-loud funny in many places, there is some stunning poignancy and personal depth too, and there are pauses in the beautifully written dialogue in which you could hear a pin drop. Occasionally it seemed that the audience almost stopped breathing.
It is a solo performance but involves a big cast of characters. Here and there this is highlighted by segments of pre-recorded background as part of the wider soundtrack, but for the most part they are brought to life by Sweeney herself. Occasionally she may take to the microphone to directly characterise someone, but mainly it is simply the act of speaking to them as though they were onstage that makes us believe they are actually there. At times you can almost swear you see them.
The narrative is sharp, witty and extraordinarily moving and it is delivered with punch, precision and immense clarity. This is very polished theatre making.
Karaoke Tales originated in an 18 seat karaoke bar as part of the 2017 On the Verge fringe festival. Now developed into a full scale one act play it is planning a tour, for which this performance in Edge Hill’s Rose Theatre is a preview. Watch out for news of upcoming tour dates.
Steffi Sweeney and co-founder of Wives’ Tales Alice Lapworth engage students at Edge Hill in every aspect of the production and performance process. It’s great to see emerging talent not only creating great new writing and performance, but sharing the experience with tomorrow’s creative minds. Working alongside Edge Hill’s Performing Arts Department and with the support of the Everyman’s new writing programme, here we see the future of theatre in the making.