Review: That Bloody Woman

Kate Sheppard rock opera That Bloody Woman had its world premiere in Christchurch on Friday night.
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Kate Sheppard rock opera That Bloody Woman had its world premiere in Christchurch on Friday night.

That Bloody Woman

TVNZ Festival Club, Arts Centre.

Runs until August 29

Reviewed by Charlie Gates

This is something special.

That Bloody Woman is a musical bursting with wit, verve and righteously rocking tunes.

It is the story of one of New Zealand's greatest heroes, Christchurch suffragette Kate Sheppard, and her successful battle to win the vote for women in 1893.

Her battle for equality is told with gleeful irreverence, energy and silliness, but also compassion and understanding.

This is a kick ass punk rock musical full of infectious tunes that is unafraid to have fun, but just as unafraid to bring intelligence and insight to this powerful and important moment in history. The rock bombast of the show's opening five minutes feels a little overwhelming, but soon That Bloody Woman settles down.

Sheppard's story is wrapped in a punk aesthetic to bring alive how radical and world changing her views were considered by 19th century patriarchal society. The show also highlights how relevant and vital feminist issues remain in contemporary New Zealand. The problems of domestic abuse and alcoholism that drove the suffragettes to demand political change in the 19th century still exist today.

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But it manages to tackle these issues with a light and witty touch. There are funny songs that underline the frustration of setbacks for the suffragette movement with hilarious profanity, but there are also some genuinely moving songs that bring home the powerful reasons why women suffering abuse at the hands of drunken husbands campaigned for temperance and then fought for the vote.

The show's authors, composer Luke Di Somma and playwright Gregory Cooper, are a perfect team for this musical. Cooper is a member of comedy troupe The Outwits, who have experience condensing the broad sweep of history into something smart, pithy and funny with their summer shows like The Complete History of Christchurch.

Di Somma, meanwhile, has a gleeful knack for a rocking tune. He is like a magpie in a CD shop, joyfully drawing on Pussy Riot, hard rock, 1980s hair rock, gospel, ballads and classic musicals to entertain and move.

The show is also incredibly well served by its strong cast and very tight house band, The Hallelujah Bonnets.

The unstoppable energy of the show asks a lot of its cast members, but they all step up to the task.

Esther Stephens' performance as Kate Sheppard is the centre of the show. She plays Sheppard with charm and delivers the songs with a powerful voice.

But every truly great hero needs a truly great antagonist. And Sheppard gets her antagonist in the mighty, bloated and strutting form of Richard "King Dick" Seddon.

Seddon, played by Geoffrey Dolan, was the prime minister of New Zealand in late 19th century and strides on to the stage to represent the patriarchy Sheppard was fighting so hard to overcome.

This show is compassionate, smart, funny and gloriously entertaining.

It vibrates with rocking tunes, righteous energy and knob gags. What is not to like?

 - Stuff

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