The universal one

Seating will be distanced and there’s only one woman on the stage, but Lauryn Redding transports her audience to a sweaty packed-out gig with her tragicomic musical tale of first love

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When Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre reopens its doors on 23 June, after being shut for 15 months, it will be with a loud celebratory blast of music rather than a subdued whisper.

“I just want people to have a bloody good night because we all deserve one at the moment,” says Lauryn Redding, the writer and star of comeback show Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical.

Last week’s government announcement that coronavirus restrictions are to stay in place until 19 July means that the theatre will have reduced capacity and socially distanced seating for the play’s run, but Redding’s enthusiasm and energy are more than enough to fill the gaps.

“I’m a bag of everything. I’m absolutely ecstatic. I’m nervous as this is quite an accolade to carry, but really, my main feeling is that I’m just excited,” she says during a break from rehearsals. “I can’t wait to do what I do for a living again. I can’t wait to tell this story and I can’t wait to see people in the theatre again.”

Awaiting audiences is an uplifting, one-woman show about falling in love for the first time, set to an original musical score written and performed by its star. She describes Bloody Elle, which was written during lockdown and is directed by the Royal Exchange’s joint artistic director Bryony Shanahan, as a warm, open and enjoyable play, full of heart.

“It’s really honest. It’s really funny and truthful and it socks a punch as well.” The narrative is loosely based on Redding’s own experiences of “being young and queer and growing up in the north,” although she says the play is not autobiographical and explores emotions that everyone can relate to.

“I was very careful not to brand it as a ‘lesbian gig musical’ because I think some people might go: ‘Oh well, that’s for the gay community. That’s not really for me’,” says the writer-actor, originally from York.

“Love is love and I know that can sometimes sound cliched. But with this show people will get to see a love story that they will recognise, regardless of where they sit in their gender spectrum or their sexuality.”

One of Redding’s motivations for writing Bloody Elle was to normalise a queer love story, rather than sexualise it, as is often the case with TV and film portrayals. “A lot of lesbian storylines are often fetishised or sent up and I’m so fed up with that,” she says. “I want to prove to everyone that love is the same for all of us. It hurts like shit. It’s really brilliant. It’s awful and it’s wonderful.”

Another incentive behind the play was bringing together Redding’s two main passions: music and acting. “For me, they really sit hand in hand,” says the garrulous 33 year old, who started out as a gigging singer-songwriter before enrolling at drama school. Since graduating, she’s forged a successful stage career, performing in West End productions and national and international theatrical tours. Bloody Elle is her first one-woman show and most personal project to date.

“It is exhausting, but it is also really rewarding. It’s like getting on a moving train and once it’s started going there’s no respite. I just hope that the audience gets on board with me and we can all have a lovely time together.”

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 23 June to 17 July

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