These days, singer-songwriter-producer Kate Bush is spoken of in revered tones. A songwriting genius, an enigmatic recluse, an ethereal deity floating above the music scene. And that may be true but it’s not, pardon the pun, the whole story.
Throughout her career, Kate embraced the absurd, channeled the odd and even delighted in the silly. She brayed like a possessed donkey on the song Get Out Of My House. She wore a less-than-effective-against-Covid mask for her performance of Egypt for the 1979 Christmas Special and emoted in front of the Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza, the banks of the Nile without ever leaving the West Midlands. And who else would wear a dunce’s cap while sitting atop a roller-skating minotaur?
In her 1982 song Leave It Open, Kate acknowledges “We let the weirdness in”. This is a baton that Sarah-Louise Young is happy to play with in her playful, affectionate show, An Evening Without Kate Bush.
An Evening Without Kate Bush is somewhere in between an entertaining musical / comedy cabaret show and a tribute act. You might be recoiling in (hammer) horror at the thought of going to see a tribute act – that’s understandable in many cases. Tribute acts often conjure up a guy singing Careless Whisper who might have had a passing resemblance to George Michael thirty years ago but now looks more like Alan Sugar. But fear not – Sarah-Louise Young is less a tribute act and far more an act that is a glowing tribute to La Bush. No Sunfly backing tapes here.
Opening the show in near dark apart from an intermittent red distress light a la “Before Than Dawn“, Young performs And Dream Of Sheep with such haunting beauty, you immediately know you are in safe hands. Although that safety is fairly short lived, as she immediately wanders down from the stage and into the audience. Again, to defend the indefensible, Sarah-Louise is disarmingly charming as she enquiries what are people’s favourite Bush songs (we had Wuthering Heights to Kashka From Baghdad last night!) And her audience participation only serves to include everyone in her take on Kate’s world – we exchanged the experience as we howled together to beckon on the Hounds Of Love.
Sarah-Louise takes you by her “triple vaxxed and doubly sanitised hand” and leads you through the eclectic highlights of Bush’s back catalogue.
Through a clever use of wigs, props and winged capes, Young instantly conjures up different looks for each song. Wearing a leopard-skin tabard, she becomes the cleaner at Bush’s 2014 Hammersmith Apollo residence who takes her moment to sing This Woman’s Work. Two handheld lamps in the shape of a pair of eyes blink in perfect time to a surreal Army Dreamers.
A definite highlight is her Russian-language rendition of Babooshka – “sing along” she instructs a helpless audience. Who knew the emphasis should be on the first syllable – BAH-boosh-ka and not ba-BOOSH-ka – not Bush and definitely not those pesky Sunfly backings!
What Young and her co-creator Russell Lucas achieve is a fast-moving, always-intriguing exploration of the “Ivy Goddess” which never settles into predictability. Young’s impressive powerful vocals deliver committed versions of James And The Cold Gun and The Man With The Child In His Eyes. She always has her own eye firmly on the comedic potential of a Bush performance: of Cloudbusting, “these are really the lyrics” she says in mock disbelief; on preparing for a red unitard and Vileda mop-wig moment, “forty-six years old” she sighs in faux despair.
Despite introducing it hilariously as “without all the boring Peter Gabriel bits”, Don’t Give Up packed an emotional punch that had members of the audience in tears. For a show that has taken Sarah-Jane Young since 2019 to bring to London and tour, for the audience to be able to sit together laughing and waving their arms in the air on a Wednesday evening in Soho, it was a timely hymn to the power of endurance.
The hugely-talented Sarah-Louise Young has a captivating stage presence, a natural warmth and terrific, versatile voice. The kind of performer who exudes a genuine delight in connecting with her audience. We promise An Audience Without Kate Bush is awash with many moments of pleasure that will last long after the show.
Kate might not be there, but you could be. And The Recs guarantees you an extraordinary, joyous celebration not only of an incredible musical legacy but also of the power of human connection. A must-see 5-star smash! Sell your Babooshka for a ticket!
AN EVENING WITHOUT KATE BUSH TOUR
NOW-SAT 26 Feb (Not 20), Soho Theatre, LONDON