I’ve been hearing rave reviews of one-woman show THE RISE AND FALL OF A NORTHERN STAR from music friends and colleagues, and so I was delighted when I managed to catch the very last show of 2014 at The Lantern Theatre in Liverpool. For those who aren’t familiar with this extraordinary performance piece, it’s all the work of STELLA GRUNDY, actress and lead singer of ‘90s Manchester band INTASTELLA. Through her doomed protagonist Tracy Star, a budding singer seeking fame and fortune outside of her dreary urban existence, we are transported back into Manchester’s drug-filled ‘Madchester’ heyday, drawn into the magical yet corrupt world that dared to call itself the music industry.
Injecting a rich dose of witty humour, inspired storytelling, musical interludes, spiced up with some welcome northern charm, Stella brings her passion for the music world alive in this ambitious and brilliantly written show which she performs to perfection. Her enigmatic and raw embodiment of what makes a young desperate artist vulnerable to a destructive and controlling industry induces tears of sadness and laughter in equal measure throughout. You can’t help but be moved by the storyline as Stella convinces us that Tracy is out of her depth in the vicious world of industry and is on a slippery slope towards which end you will need to see the show to discover.
You can only imagine the stories and personal experiences that have coloured Stella’s representation of this feisty yet fragile character. And speaking to her afterwards, you can see that Tracy is someone close to Stella’s heart in more ways than one. To perform and write with such honesty and bravery is a rare thing in the arts world in this day and age of hyper image-awareness and funding desperation, but Stella is rightfully proud of her product and I stand by my assessment that this is a show that must be seen be everybody working in the arts industry in any form, and anybody who is remotely curious about what really goes on behind the scenes. It’s an eye-opener, and I came out of the show myself thoroughly inspired and grateful that there are brave artists and human beings such as Stella Grundy out there to bring these realities to light – and with such delicacy, humility and humour.
But this production is much more than a commentary on an industry. There are elements of philosophy and existential examination throughout. Stella is not afraid to highlight the stereotypes that women face in their creative careers – Tracy’s often treated like a doll and pushed around by A&R men like there is no tomorrow. The breakdown, rehab, aftermath… It all makes for uncomfortable viewing, but that is exactly the point. Though this is a fantasy figure, you are left acutely aware that there is no editing in how she’s talked down to, how she’s mislead, how she’s naïve to the promises made by men in positions of power, how she becomes worn down and begins to question everything around her. We’re reminded throughout that compromising herself and blindly clinging to the shadow of her former self may ultimately lead to her destruction.
The entire performance is a cathartic process for the audience and seemingly for the performer alike. It’s a joint celebration and commemoration of an industry that was once, for better or worse, vibrant but is now very much on its last legs and being forced, not unlike Tracy, to confront its demons.
What is also incredibly endearing about this show is the amount of personal love that’s gone into it. Although funding has helped it to grow, it is still laced with DIY heart – immediately after the show closes, Stella is assisted by members of the audience to speedily dismantle the bed and clear the stage, so that a young band can set up their kit, wiping out every trace of Tracy Star: symbolic, to say the least.
There’s something terribly moving about tonight’s performance. I have to say it’s not only restored my faith in the courage of people, but it’s also reminded me that not much has changed in the music industry – it’s still a world heavily infused with BS and operates much like a black market. But, thanks to artists like Stella Grundy, I’m reassured that for some performers, the show does indeed go on and in fact evolves into something far more meaningful and groundbreaking than any band who may or may not still be granted radio play tomorrow. This is how legacies are formed, and this is how creative people give themselves the opportunity to take risks and evolve – if only Tracy had a bit more of Stella in her, she may have grown into someone who helped to mould the world around her rather than be moulded by it.
The show is on hiatus for the rest of this year but is due back next year, along with an accompanying album inspired by the show. Do not miss it the next time round, because, in short, this is one of the most exciting shows you will ever see and you need to see it while it’s still accessible.