Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder!: “I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it in the history of theatre on this planet”

The cast of the new murder-comedy musical tell us how true crime has infiltrated the West End

Everyone relax – we finally have something to write in the centre of the Venn diagram of things enjoyed by fans of true crime podcasts and fans of West End musicals. That thing is Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder!, the new comedy musical from Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones, which is an unorthodox visitor to the Ambassadors Theatre – and a refreshingly original one. Following best friends and true crime obsessives Kathy and Stella as they podcast about their favourite murders, the show explores what might happen if two cosy crime fans got caught up in a real life murder case. And it’s a riot.

We sat down with cast members Elliot Broadfoot (Justin) and Ben Redfern (David Slatter) to chat about the show’s ability to coax true crime fans into West End theatres.

Could you tell me what first drew you to this project?

Elliot Broadfoot: When I first got the email through about the audition, I’d heard amazing things about it. But apart from the songs that were on Spotify and the clips on the internet, I knew absolutely nothing, which is quite exciting because I am a huge musical theatre nerd, so I often know lots of things that are going on. To know very little was exciting. When the material was sent through, I felt an immediate connection to it. Just the way Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones had written these people was one of the best, weirdest things I’ve seen. It’s quite a weird world that the show exists in – it’s almost fantastical – but they’ve managed to write very weird people too, and I think I was drawn to that. That feeling of, “I know who these people are.”

Ben Redfern: Sometimes you get given a script in an audition, you read it and you think, “Oh, I think they think this is funny.” But this genuinely was. I love comedy, and the opportunity to do something that genuinely made me laugh, and being allowed to fully go for it in the audition, was amazing. I came out of the audition and thought, “I really want to do that. That’s exactly the stuff I want to do.”

Has that been the case the whole way through, that feeling of just being allowed to go for it?

BR: Yeah, completely. It’s been incredible. To feel that level of support doing something like has been amazing, and the whole process has been really bonding. When you’re completely ridiculed with insecurities, thinking, “I’m not going to try that, that won’t work” – especially in comedy, you want to hit the beats, and when you’re in rehearsal with four or five people in front of you – you don’t know if it’s going to land onstage. But the cast is so supportive and I think that has to be the case to be creative with your choices.

What’s it been like working on something so new that’s evolving so quickly?

EB: It’s a very intense process and it’s a bit mind blowing at times. I often find that people don’t quite understand the pressures of doing a show like this as an actor, and the cuts that get made every week and the new material that gets thrown at you with 24 hours’ notice… It can be quite overwhelming. But I think in this process, especially, because there’s 10 of us working, we’re a real safety net for each other. We know, when we’re onstage, it’s a bit of a bullet train that doesn’t stop until we get to the end. Being able to look in each other’s eyes and say, “We’ve got this” is the greatest thing I’ve taken from this. So when we have to take on new choreography five hours before the show opens for previews, we’re all able to go “Right, we’re gonna get through this together.”

Kathy and Stella are quite unusual musical theatre heroines. Why do you think audiences will find them so endearing?

BR: I think they’re two people who have often felt lonely but who have found a bond with each other. That idea of finding someone who understands you – I think that’s what people really get from it.

EB: Everyone either has a Kathy or Stella in their lives or is Kathy or Stella – or a mixture of them both. Every time I do the show I realise I’m way closer to Stella than I ever would have thought. As characters they’ve got very basic traits that I think aren’t often represented so that’s something that’s refreshing.

Are you a true crime fan?

BR: I have watched quite a lot of true crime documentaries on Netflix, which I love to do, and this has made me watch even more! Before, I wouldn’t say I watched loads, but I did watch them. Now, it’s really weird, but I’ll come back from rehearsals and put them all on in the evening. I’m thinking, “What’s going on here? Is there something wrong with me?” But I’ve definitely been pulled in.

EB: Unfortunately, I am a bit of a true crime fan. I mostly consume it on Netflix, although podcasting is very huge. What I found great was there’s references to true crime stories in our script where I was like, “Oh, is that from this thing? Is that from that documentary?” It got a bit strange. But it was really nice to see that there’d been a real thorough look at the things we are really obsessed with in the real world.

Do you think you would make a good detective?

EB: I like to think I would make a great detective because I enjoy problem solving and I like puzzles. However, I’m terribly disorganised. I need a Kathy. I would very much be the Stella. “Please take the notes. I will do the thinking and you do the writing.”

Why do you think we are so fascinated with true crime?

EB: I think the obsession comes from trying to rationalize our own worries. Often with true crime, you see things like: Stressed out wife snaps. Husband who was abandoned as a child snaps. Life is complex for us all and we all deal with varying issues of trauma and all that. I think when they manifest in people committing heinous crimes, you’re able to tell yourself, “Well, at least I’m not that person.” I don’t know if it’s a healthy thing to do… But yeah, I think it allows us all to go, “I’m not as messed up as I thought I was. I might think I’m crazy sometimes, but I’m not crazy enough to do that.”

BR: I think it’s just the psychology of people. What drives them to it? How would you even get there? It’s a morbid fascination. It’s like watching horror. You might be absolutely terrified, sometimes, but you can’t stop watching. It does feel like it’s got more into popular culture. I think more and more people are getting obsessed.

One of my friends came to see the show and met a couple who had heard that the show was about true crime and booked tickets to see it in London, and they were from Trinidad. They’d come all the way from Trinidad purely because they are true crime fans, as opposed to musical theatre fans.

Has it ever been difficult to strike the balance between the comedy and the often quite morbid subject matter?

BR: I think the show is actually quite moving in places, but the more sensitive stuff is all to do with the friendships and relationships. The ‘murder’ aspect in this show is quite camp, it’s quite comical, so the more sensitive stuff is to do with how the characters relate to each other.

What makes this show unmissable?

BR: The music is phenomenal. It’s so catchy. And the energy coming off the stage, I think, is brilliant. As we’re getting more settled into this run we’re feeling that connection with the audience more and more. To hear that laughter every night is amazing.

EB: I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it on the West End. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it in the history of theatre on this planet. You want to be one of the 1000s of people that got a chance to see this moment.

Find tickets to Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder! here, now playing at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London