Americana: A Murder Ballad

Morna Young
Pepperdine Scotland and Morna Young
Assembly Checkpoint

Americana: A Murder Ballad

Welcome to America, “the land of the marching band. The world is your oyster, this land of guns and glory.”

A balladeer stands on the darkened stage, microphone in hand. He will write the story of American violence. The other actors sit below the stage. They soon become the characters in his story. Each will be both a victim and a killer.

The show takes the murder ballad as a metaphor for a frightening America where every child needs to know the drill you must follow when your school is invaded by someone with a gun. And just to give you a taste of that horror, the balladeer speaks of a man with a gun entering the theatre.

The musical often begins its scenes with a touch of country and western music, a genre rich in the number of murder ballads which may not sympathise with the killers but it is always the killer's name we remember.

The actors in turn become characters in a school. One is an 18-year-old girl subject to sexist abuse because she wouldn’t go with a lad. Another is a boy mocked by his dad for his interest in drama. We see the troubled relationship between Frankie and Johnny. There is Polly, the eco-warrior protesting against climate change. Each in turn has a nightmare about a killing in which they may be both victim and killer.

Finally, Rose calls for the other actors to break out of the murder ballad because the narrative needs to change.

The show’s musical style ranges from country and western to the marching sounds of the American patriotic song "Yankee Doodle". At times, you will be reminded of Sondheim’s musical Assassins. The performance is moving, at times unsettling and always watchable.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna