They’ve had audiences packing in all summer for a musical, of course, the witty and wonderful Where is Peter Rabbit? But Tell me is a proper grown-up show, a Lloyd Webber/Don Black collaboration, directed here by David Gilmore, whose songs are instantly recognisable but whose stagings have been few and far between in recent years.
And this is a truly magnificent hit, thanks to the spellbinding performance of the solo artist, Katie Birtill. It’s a huge demand on any performer, to hold a stage alone for well over an hour, but oh how superbly Birtill does it. She has not only an exquisite voice, but also the capacity to draw us totally into her story, the ability to switch from steel to vulnerability half way through a line.
The Girl – we never know her name, and only occasionally the name of her various lovers (such as the Hollywood mogul Sheldon Bloom) – is a girl we all know, a girl we might have been, a girl we might be. She’s searching for love, and every time she falls, THIS is the one, THIS is getting it right at last.
And it’s a love story in which she is the only player, telling her story through the lyrics of clever songs, from the repeated refrain of the letter to her mum (“I know you’ll like him…”) to the classics such as Take that look off your face and the finale hopeful Unexpected Song.
There’s joy and humour and determination, but ultimately the sadness of loss as the Girl tries to control how a love affair should end: “Don’t call me as they call your plane…Take me to a park that’s covered with trees, tell me on a Sunday please.” Her heart is broken and we’re heartbroken too, living each stab of pain with her.
There’s a simple but effective set using basic scaffolding; this is a show where the words tell the story. And the music, with the band sitting just behind the screen. It’s gorgeous, and it’s on until October 26. Treat yourself to a few days in the Lakes and make this your highlight.