top of page

The Ballad of Hattie and James | Kiln Theatre

The Ballad of Hattie and James, which is written by Samuel Adamson and directed by Richard Twyman, is a beautiful journey of Hattie and James' ever-changing relationship which spans over decades. The ballad of their relationship is firmly rooted in a musical undertone, whilst delivering some particularly strong conversations. 

The Ballad of Hattie and James is a duet between the two titular characters, with each of them bringing their own narrative and pouring emotion into it. With external challenges, tragic events, and discoveries about oneself, each character changes and grows, creating an ever-developing ballad that also works as a metaphor. 

Charles Edwards and Sophie Thompson as James and Hattie are perfectly cast. Edwards brings a wonderfully nervous, yet deeply passionate perspective to James, which makes him such an endearing character. Thompson proves just how incredible an actress she is, with her mesmerising performance. Effortlessly embodying Hattie, Thompson pulls off a cheeky 6-year old, to a recovering addict at 60 years. The two balance each other well with their contrasting personalities and believable commonality in their interests. It truly feels as if Edwards and Thompson have worked together as a team for years. 

Suzette Llewellyn adorns a number of various characters hats, playing almost all the other characters in the show. Llewellyn stands her ground, with clearly defined and developed characters, and does a commendable job in each role. Luna Valentine as Chrissie anchors the show in the limited time stage time, and her wild eyed innocence breathes fresh air into the otherwise heavy theme. 

Having a piano on stage at all times, with the extremely talented and versatile Berrek Dyer performing all the music live. Keeping a straight face, and using minimal movement, Dyer doesn't draw any attention to her playing, nor do the characters acknowledge her presence beyond sitting with her when pretending to play. However Dyer's talent is unmatched in the show and remains one's of its greatest strengths. 

There is an effective use of a revolve (Jon Bausor), with at least one piano being on stage at all times. The revolve not only helps with seamless scene transitions, with stage hands helping move and set scenes, but creates creative and magical moments of jumping between time periods, as the characters relive key moments. The lighting design (Simisola Majekodunmi) enhances these time jumps with a pale blue lighting and mist. The sound design (Pete Malkin) brings a crisp and clear quality, and the use of live music makes the show feel simultaneously more grand, and yet, intimate. 

The show struggles significantly, however, from the distribution of dialogue and action. There are scenes, the final scene of Act One springs to mind, where the audience are subjected to over thirty minutes of nothing but a conversation between Hattie and James. Whilst the actors' excellent performances with the subtle hints to their traumatic and dramatic childhood memories are scattered throughout conversations, which helps the audience remain invested, this is ultimately lost in the longer scenes with repetitive dialogue. The show relies heavily on the whiplash speed of characters changing relationship dynamic, and this often gets a little lost, underneath the heavy dialogue. 

The Ballad of Hattie and James is a song that's worth singing along to, with strong leads, a beautiful set and a fascinatingly heart wrenching story. The Ballad of Hattie and James is currently playing at the Kiln Theatres until 18th May. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Mark Senior


bottom of page