The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.
The different ways to murder someone have never sounded as good as they do in Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder. During the show's jaunty opening opening number, the composers of the new musical manage to fit "strangulation" and "psycho-rapist cannibals who burn their victims alive" into a memorable melody, which also economically establishes what the show is about: two friends so obsessed with true crimes that they have their own murder podcast.
Kathy and Stella features book and lyrics by co-director Jon Brittain and music and lyrics by Matthew Floyd Jones. It first premiered at last year's Fringe, where it quickly sold out. The musical has since been expanded into a brisk 90 minutes and has been a popular ticket at this year's festival. A number of producers have signed onto the show (including Francesca Moody Productions, who produced the recent A Doll's House revival on Broadway). After Fringe, Kathy and Stella are touring to the Bristol Old Vic and Manchester with an eye towards New York.
It's no wonder the creators of Kathy and Stella want more people to see it. The show packs some marvelous mayhem into its 90-minute run-time, with catchy songs and clever lyrics—at one point, they rhyme "horses" with "corpses." Sondheim would be proud.
Kathy (Bronté Barbé) and Stella (Rebekah Hinds) are best friends who have never left their childhood homes. They have no careers and no passions, aside from the murder podcast that they both host. No one listens to their podcast, but when their favorite author is murdered, they set off to solve the mystery as a way to boost their listenership. You might think it's a direct ripoff of Only Murders In the Building, but the musical goes off in a more ingenious direction. It tackles everything from the ethics of profiting off of true-crime narratives, to how social media fuels narcissism, to how we shouldn't be afraid of growing and changing.
Through it all, the beating heart of the show are its title characters. Barbé and Hinds have such a winning chemistry together, and deliver the lines and chair-ography with such aplomb, that their characters ground the show even when it goes off-the rails.
And it is a wild time. There's a song in the first half of the show about corpses and buzz saws, after all. And like any murder mystery, surprise identities are revealed (many of them involving the show's MVP Jodie Jacobs, who skillfully plays multiple roles). And there's red herrings left and right. But even though the concept is killer, there are a bit too many convenient plot turns, which strain credulity the third time they happen. A longer running time will help the show feel less rushed.
Despite those small caveats, Kathy and Stella has a moving message about female friendship, and how the best relationships are the ones that allow us to grow together. As such, the musical more than passes the Bechdel Test. Which means that aside from being the perfect show for those who have listened to every episode of "My Favorite Murder," Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder is also the perfect night out with your bestie.
Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder runs until August 27 at Underbelly George Square in the Udderbelly tent. See what other shows Playbill recommend at this venue. See photos from Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder below.