There is nothing out-there or formally challenging about about ‘Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder!’ and that’s a good thing: sometimes all you need late night at the Fringe is a raucous mini-musical about two lonely women from Hull whose so-so true crime podcast is given an unfortunate boost when a top crime author is murdered on their doorstep.
We discover that the late Felicia Taylor was in town revisiting the case of the Hull Decapitator serial killer. But then her severed head is sent to Kathy and Stella. It’s a mixed blessing: on the one hand, their heroine has been brutally murdered. On the other hand, this could be the thing that really turns the podcast around.
‘Kathy and Stella’ is pretty amusing on the subject of true crime podcasts, specifically their questionable ethics and over-familiar fandoms. There’s a minor but very funny character later on who bills himself as an ‘anti-true-crime activist’, which cracked me up. In general, though, it’s not overly obsessed with parodying the genre - if you’re after that see The Onion’s peerless ‘A Very Fatal Murder’.
Where it’s brilliant is in its depiction of friendship between nerdy female outsiders. Though it’s actually written by two blokes – director Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones – actors Rebekah Hinds (Kathy) and Bronté Barbé (Stella) have wonderful chemistry together that’s at least somewhat believable amidst the cartoonish chaos. Hinds’s Kathy is bolshy and outwardly confident – but she never sticks at anything for long, and her sister is getting weary of having her crash on her sofa. She’s also clearly desperately lonely, with Barbé’s shy, mousy Stella her only real friend - which is why Kathy absolutely flips her wig when Stella suggests she might move away to study. Kathy domineers Stella because she’s terrified of losing her; Stella loves her back, but finds her friend utterly stifling.
It’s got a tang of truth to it, but they’re both extremely funny: in particular, Hinds’s bolshiness as Kathy delivers time and again - her holler of ‘don’t thank us, pig’ to a blameless police officer who is trying to be polite is hysterical.
Performed by a cast of five, it’s not a big production number musical, and has more of a cabaret vibe to it. It would have been fun as a play, but the fact it’s being belted out to Floyd Jones’s keyboard accompaniment really elevates its already formidable air of giddy camp. Very, very silly, but it has a heart of gold.