Music, fandom and mythology combine in Sarah-Louise Young’s chaotic cabaret cult show An Evening Without Kate Bush

“A bonkers triumph”: Sarah-Louise Young in An Evening Without Kate Bush

KATE Bush has never played York but here comes An Evening Without Kate Bush, Sarah- Louise Young’s show for uber-fans and newcomers alike, at Theatre@41, Monkgate, on Thursday night.

Made by actress, writer, director and international cabaret performer Young with theatre-maker Russell Lucas, this “chaotic cabaret cult” is as much about fandom and mythology as a celebration of Bush’s five decades of ground-breaking music, from the chart-topping Wuthering Heights at the age of 19 in 1978 to the 22-night run of her three-act Before The Dawn show at Hammersmith Apollo in 2014.

“My big brother’s first cerebral and physical crush was Kate Bush, and I do remember dancing madly to Wuthering Heights when I was four and a half, with four older brothers around me,” says Sarah-Louise.

“Hounds Of Love was my Kate Bush album, and I was a big fan of her videos; their theatricality was part of my genesis as a performer.”

Young and Lucas had first made a show together ten years ago, Julie Madly Deeply, in celebration of stage and screen actress Julie Andrews. “We wanted to make another show because we’d started to explore fans and fandom in the Julie show, and with Kate not performing for more than 30 years, we started thinking about doing a show focusing on Kate and her fans,” recalls Sarah Louise.

“Then suddenly she announced the Before The Dawn concerts, so we put it on ice. We both had tickets but had to give them away as we’d been invited to perform a three-week run of Julie Madly Deeply at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto.

“But the idea was still very hot and we thought, ‘let’s just make it’, coming up with the idea of wanting to make a piece of fan art about how Kate Bush might make a piece about her fans, with us creating a show we could perform out of suitcases.”

The resulting show is in the spirit of Kate Bush “but never trying to imitate her”, one where people often come out afterwards with their mouths open, saying “it’s not what I expected at all”…or asking Sarah-Louise if she does yoga exercises. The answer is No.

Kate Bush once said, “it’s not important to me that people understand me”. Indeed Sarah-Louise quotes a line from Graeme Thomson’s 2010 biography, Under The Ivy , that says “some people have found her easier to parody than to understand”, but An Evening Without Kate Bush is definitely not in that camp.

Rather than a parody, it is a deep dive seeking a deeper understanding of her music and mythology. “We nod to tribute shows, but then take a journey down the worm hole to show the flip side, the B-side, of Kate, where she keeps evolving and regenerating,” says Sarah-Louise.

What emerges is a “Chaotic Cabaret Cult”, as Young and Lucas define the show. “We came up with that phrase after we spent a lot of time at the start thinking about the audience experience, what they’ll get out of the show, and will it be fun for us?” says Sarah-Louise.

“I want chaos! ‘Cult’ was an ambitious idea, but it has turned into that, and cabaret, for me, encompasses all theatre genres, especially after the two years we’ve just had. The show is never the same twice.”

Each night is a transformative experience for Sarah-Louise. “I get spat out at the other end of the show,” she says,

Choosing songs was “immensely difficulty”, so much so that “we put it out on social media, asking people to tell us what songs they wouldn’t forgive us for not including”. “But we also didn’t want to make a show where they were all from the early era,” says Sarah-Louise. “And we had to look at what backing tracks were available, so we’ve done Hammer Horror and James And The Cold Gun afresh.”

She acknowledges that “for some people, Kate’s music is a quasi-religious experience”. “We learned a lot from our Julie Madly Deeply show, where people bring their childhood memories to it; their love of The Sound Of Music and Mary Poppins, and that was very helpful in creating this show,” says Sarah-Louise.

“It was important that I was a fan but also a theatre-maker who could step away from that, so that the show works for both super-fans and those who aren’t.

“It’s a celebration of fans and their experiences, made from a place of respect because I was aware that people wanted their love to be respected and affirmed. They love her epic themes, and that is what art should do: give us a portal to understand ourselves.”

An Evening Without Kate Bush takes on a different life each night: “There’s another show going on that’s not in my control,” says Sarah-Louise. “People bring their history and their love; how lucky I am to have those experiences in the room.”

One review has called it “a bonkers triumph”. “I’m very, very happy with that! Those two words – ‘bonkers triumph’ – work so well together because it is in part a clown show that allows that side of Kate to come through, as well as showing respect.”

An Evening Without Kate Bush, but with Sarah-Louise Young, at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Thursday (28/4/2022), 7.30pm. Box office:

Sarah-Louise Young in Kate Bush mode: Note the red shoes

HERE is the official syndicated interview with Sarah-Louise Young for even more insight into An Evening Without Kate Bush, a show heading out on tour after a three-week London season.

What attracted you to Kate Bush as the possible subject for the show? 

“I’ve aways loved Kate Bush’s music and as a child of the ’70s and 80s remember that first appearance on Top Of The Pops and all those amazing videos and songs which followed.  Plus my brother fancied her a bit, so her music was always floating through the house. 

“Kate Bush is a true icon: her music is unique, spanning nearly five decades, winning countless awards and selling millions of records, but the woman herself is something of an enigma.

“Not performing live for over 30 years between her 1979 Tour Of Life and 2014’s Before The Dawn at the Hammersmith Apollo, she spoke to us through her recorded music. 

“In her physical absence, her fans created their own community: ‘The Fish People’. They are at the heart of An Evening Without Kate Bush. 

“We wanted to celebrate them through her music. That was the starting point of making the show.” 

Do you try to impersonate Kate in the show? 

“I never set out to impersonate her – I mean who could? – but it’s amazing how many people tell me I sound like her though. A few fans thought I was miming at the start of the show!” 

How hard is it to sing in Kate’s extraordinary vocal range?

“It’s definitely a vocally athletic workout! She sang them all live back in 1979, apart from Hammer Horror – a song we do in the two-act touring version of An Evening Without Kate Bush – so there’s no excuse not to do the same.

“What you hear on the albums is months of intricate layering of harmonies and different instruments, so it’s a more raw sound on stage, of course. 

“I perform all the songs in their original keys, and I think part of it is that she chose such specific phrasing and wrote such intricate melodies, hearing them instantly hot-wires you back to the original.” 

How did you prepare the movement aspect of your show?

“I spent one day working with the amazing Tom Jackson Greaves, who is a director and choreographer. We watched a lot of her videos and noted down some of her choices.

“We explored those in our session; again, never trying to ‘be’ her, more tap into her spirit. Quite by accident, the nicknames we came up with for her moves (‘The Pulse’, ‘The Champagne Whipcrack’, for example) found their way into the show.

“That’s often how it happens with devised work: you become a sponge for every impulse and they jostle around your head during the making process until they either find a home or float off into the ether.

“With the costumes too, my brilliant co-creator, Russell Lucas, and I tried to evoke her, not copy her. We rub shoulders with themes: she uses a lot of nature and bird imagery in her work, hence the feathery headdress.

“The cleaner’s outfit for This Woman’s Work is as much a nod to the cleaner’s story we mention at the start of the show, as it is to her TV special appearance where Kate sang Army Dreamers dressed as a cleaner or archetypal vintage housewife. That’s one for the super-fans.

“We did of course watch a lot of footage, interviews, videos, everything we could find, to get to know her journey as an artist and also how the world around her changed.

“Her early interviews are so uncomfortable. She is often being asked truly banal or overtly sexualised questions. She is so polite and accommodating but it’s great to see her later on in her career take the reins and shut down lines of enquiry that show the interviewers have no idea what they’re talking about.

“I also read the brilliant biography by Graeme Thomson called Under The Ivy. It’s the best music biography I’ve ever read and really lets you into her creative process.”

Do you need to know Kate’s music and be a super-fan to enjoy An Evening Without Kate Bush?

“Absolutely not. It’s one of the biggest compliments the show has received. Of course, if you are a super-fan, you’ll hear lots of the songs you know and love plus some little hidden gems for those in-the-know.

“But none of that is at the expense of the audience members who have perhaps come along with a fan friend or just out of curiosity. We elevate and celebrate everyone and when someone tells me after the show that they didn’t know her work but will be going home to listen to her music, then I’m thrilled.” 

Your show encourages interaction. How does that work?

“It’s as interactive as you want it to be. I’ve been working in cabaret for over 20 years and my primary aim is that the audience have a good time. It’s great to be challenged and surprised, but I want them to feel safe. That’s really important to me. 

“The invitation to participate starts small, a wave of a hand or a howl in the dark. I’m always really careful with any audience interaction to choose people who want to participate. There’s no enforced joining in; just gentle encouragement.

“I find that people self-select pretty easily. If someone doesn’t want to play, their body language communicates that. So far, I’ve never chosen anyone who didn’t want to be asked and I’ve had people come up to me after the show and fling their arms around me with gratitude.

“There’s a lovely moment where I invite a couple to dance together. During our Edinburgh Fringe run, we had a mum and her son come and dance, which reduced the whole room to tears, and in London, a couple who’d recently broken up but wanted to stay friends joined us on stage: they sought me out afterwards to say thank you. Our audiences have been brilliant. There is always so much love in the room. 

“Russell Lucas and I were inspired by Kate Bush flashmobs and events like The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever, which have sprung up around the world, from Sydney, Australia to Folkestone, Kent. We’ve taken fans’ stories and paid tribute to them on stage. You’ll enjoy the songs you know and love but put through the lens of the fans’ story. 

Sarah-Louise Young in her headdress from Denmark, the first costume piece of costume she bought for An Evening Without Kate Bush

After the opening song, And Dream Of Sheep, you say, “She’s not here but you are”! How would you feel if the real Kate Bush were in the audience? Would you want to know in advance?

“We would absolutely LOVE it if she came to see the show, although she’d have to wear a disguise as I think the audience would capsize if they knew she was in.

“When we were making it, we always knew we wanted it to be something she would approve of – so it’s been created with love, respect and a hefty does of joyful eccentricity! 

“Friends of hers have seen it and loved it, and in Chichester I had the great privilege of meeting one of her original Tour Of Life backing singers, Glenys Groves.

“She was so enthusiastic about the piece and is still in touch with Kate, so you never know…we might yet have an evening WITH Kate Bush one of these days!”

Your show focuses on Kate’s fans worldwide. Who are the most bizarre you came across?

“Kate Bush’s fans are really friendly and open! People have shared so many incredible and personal stories with me: there’s the man who proposed to his wife to The Kick Inside; the young lad who found the courage to come out to his parents after listening to Wow, and the couple who chose Don’t Give Up as the first dance at their wedding.

“We’ve been touring a two-act version of this show around the country, with even more costume changes, so I’m able to weave some of these new stories into the next night’s performance.

“We’ve also heard from fans who went to see every single Tour Of Life date, have tattoos of her lyrics on their arms, and folk who come to the show dressed as her. 

Does the show change each night depending on the audience’s reactions?

“No two shows are the same and I love that. It keeps it fresh and alive. 

I ask the audience what their favourite songs are or what’s brought them to the theatre and then weave their stories into the evening’s entertainment. 

“We call it a ‘chaotic cabaret cult’ and it really is! It’s playful, anarchic, touching, hot and sweaty and full of music and laughter. 

“Imagine if Kate Bush made a tribute show about her fans and you come close to capturing the spirit of An Evening Without Kate Bush. Even if you just howl with the hounds or wave a hand in the air, you are still part of the experience. 

“I love hearing people’s stories and I always come out into the foyer afterwards to chat to anyone who wants to stay and talk. The audience really make this show.” 

How difficult was it to decide which songs to include?

“It was a massive challenge as there are many across such a huge time span. Inevitably there are lots from her early albums. The Kick Inside and Hounds Of Love are a lot of people’s favourites and first experience of her work.

“When we were making the show, we ran a poll on social media to see what songs people wouldn’t forgive us for not including! But we still had to leave some out. I adore Deeper Understanding and Under The Ivy, for example, but if we put them all in, it would be longer than The Ring Cycle! 

“We take well-known songs like This Woman’s Work and Cloudbusting and give them a twist. So, if you come to see An Evening Without Kate Bush, you might find yourself suddenly singing backing vocals or slow dancing with your partner at the school disco.

“If you speak Russian, you might enjoy joining in with my version of Babooshka! The longer touring version allows us to include some surprises like her cover of Sexual Healing and a little slice of Pi. 

Do you have a favourite moment in the show?

“I love the moment, usually about half way through Don’t Give Up, when the couple dancing on stage have realised they basically get to hug for six minutes and after some expected clowning about, just start to relax and enjoy the opportunity to be close.

“The audience is often singing with me and it’s a lovely moment of coming together. At the end of the song, I thank them and guide them carefully to their seats and they often say a big thank you or lean in for a hug. 

“I guess my favourite parts are when something spontaneous or unexpected happens as a result of some audience interaction. They keep me on my toes and anything unique to that gathering of people reminds them and me that this night, this configuration of people, will never happen again. It’s special. I like theatre which is made with love and danger; that excites me.” 

What’s your favourite costume in the show?

“The feathered headdress I’m wearing in the poster is very special. We found that in Denmark and it was the first piece of costume we bought.

“The whole show is made from scratch, so I hand-made my Vileda super-mop costume, and the Snowflake headdress I wear at the top of Act Two took me about two solid days to stitch, so I love to because it was such a triumph of experience over skill in the making.”

Why is Kate so intriguing to so many people after all the decades?

“Her fans have travelled with her and as she has evolved as an artist, she has become the soundtrack to their lives. That’s my oven-ready hypothesis. I also think she influenced so many other artists that the whole music scene is steeped in her musical juices, as it were.

“She was one of the first people to experiment with the Fairlight, she mastered complex sampling of vocals, including the Trio Bulgarka from Hungary, and if you read the list of pop royalty lining up to play a couple of bars on her albums, everyone wants to work with her.

“She never shied away from writing about the largeness of life either, epic themes, the loneliness of love, the wonder of creation, the sensuality of being human.

“Her albums are somewhere you can climb inside and dream in. She’s one of us and yet totally Other. She’s a tea-drinking mum and an Ivy Glad Goddess.” 

If you could ask Kater one thing, what would it be?

“‘Please would you come and see our show?’. I feel like she’s said what she needs to say in her music. Perhaps I’d just ask her if she’d like a cup of tea and we’d see what happens next.”

Sarah-Louise Young: actress, writer, director, cabaret performer…and Kate Bush fan

This woman’s work: Who is Sarah-Louise Young?

Actress, writer, director and international cabaret performer. She has appeared in London’s West End with Julie Madly Deeply, Fascinating Aïda, La Soirée and Olivier-winning improvised musical group The Showstoppers.

Named one of Time Out’s Top Ten Cabaret Acts and voted Best Musical Variety Act in the London Cabaret Awards, she has been nominated for an Offie too and awarded The Stage Award for Acting. She is one half of writing and performing duo Roulston & Young, at present creating a new musical, Maxa, The Most Assassinated Woman In The World.

She directed Mark Farrelly in Jarman and Paulus in Looking For Me Friend, The Music Of Victoria Wood and has directed Russell Lucas in his solo show The Bobby Kennedy Experience.