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So far Chris Birchall has created 330 blog entries.

Miracle of Great Homer Street

We’ve all done it, haven’t we: Quietly uttering the words “Please God let me win the lottery/pools/bookie-buster”.

In this instance, the imaginary friend targeted in Father Aherne’s prayers was not God, but the little-known ancient Italian apostle, Saint Cajetan, whose Italian accent was decidedly scouse.

And it was just as well really, because actor Jake Abraham does scouse far better than he does Italian!

This brand new play by Gerry Linford is deeper and a little less slapstick than the usual Royal Court comedies. Not being a musical also meant it relies more on the quality of the script and its execution by the cast. On both counts it succeeded magnificently, fully justifying its position as a finalist in last year’s Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize competition.

Set in 1978, it turns out that Father Aherne (played by Les Dennis) had been praying for a turn-around in his fortunes, and the all-seeing saint obliged by foretelling the World Cup football scores. This sent the wayward priest scurrying off to the bookies, with the laudable intent, of course, of using the ill-gotten gains for purely philanthropic purposes. Ahem …of course.

He teamed up with the down-on-his-luck Terry (Andrew Schofield) and his wife Marion, played by Catherine Rice. And following the standard farce format of secrets kept and misunderstandings exposed, the story unfolds with some fine comedy, led by the king of comedic timing and master of facial expression, Andrew Schofield.

Schofield’s real life son Bobby was playing alongside his dad for the first time, in the role of Jamie, boyfriend of Terry’s daughter, Bella. It is plain to see from where this young actor inherited his acting skills. He and Katie King perfectly portrayed the typical teenage pairing of that era.

The Miracle of Great Homer Street is a very funny play that also has it’s moments of sentiment and solemnity. It runs until the last day of June, and is a must-see for Royal Court fans.

By |June 10th, 2018|0 Comments

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The Liver Birds Flying Home

If, like me, you were a fan of the 70s sitcom “The Liver Birds”, you would most likely watch the Royal Court’s new musical comedy “Liver Birds Flying Home” and be expecting much of the same. You know what I mean: Same old sit (uation), same old com (edy), only with more mature actors playing Beryl and Sandra.

Far from it. This play is all that and so much more.

The writers have taken Carla Lane’s original characters, and the circumstances in which they were embroiled when the last episode aired in 1979, and speculated upon the paths their lives might have taken over the ensuing forty seven years.

Knowing there were two actresses playing the 1970s Liver Birds (Lucinda Lawrence and Nichola Munns) and with Lesley Molony and Joanna Monro playing their present day characters, I naively imagined act 1 would be set in the past and act 2 in the present.

Instead, as the story of their lives unfolded, the two eras were cleverly presented on stage pretty much simultaneously, thanks to some extremely skilful directing and very clever scene changes. Not to mention the inclusion of some fine songs reflecting both eras.

It was a tale of friendships, misunderstanding and betrayal. The older birds eloquently  portrayed how people embellish the truth about their lives and how the past has a way of coming back to bite you, whilst the younger birds effortlessly painted a picture of life in an era before they were born, in a manner that Nerys Hughes, and Polly James would no doubt approve.

Whilst the ladies were all doing their thing, actor Mark Rice-Oxley worked a hectic schedule in and out of wardrobe and make-up to play the male characters from both eras.

To sum up, this is a fab musical with a super story line, great gags and lots of nostalgia.

The Liver Birds Flying Home runs at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre until 12th May.

 

By |April 25th, 2018|0 Comments

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Council Depot Blues

Just as the ‘Beast from the East’ turns up to disrupt our lives, the ‘Lads from the Depot’ have a sure-fire remedy for our winter weather blues: They’ve downed their picks and shovels and picked up their instruments to jazz up the job cards and make merry hell and mayhem.

Dave Kirby’s script has no real story-line, and none was needed. It follows the antics of a bunch a council shirkers as they clock-on, clock the boss leaving, and make music until it’s time to clock-off again.

This brilliant comedy writer cleverly explores the dynamics between the diverse characters, and the power struggle between the music-loving lads and the belligerent foreman, Harry, played by Paul Broughton.

The musical talents of the Royal Court’s regular pool of actors is second to none. Jake Abraham, Roy Brandon, Andrew Schofield and Phil Hearne are up there amongst the best, with the added bonus that humour is second nature to them. They deliver musicianship, acting and comedy in equal measures.

The play sees Musical Director Howard Gray taking an acting role, and young James Nelson-Joyce makes a Royal Court debut performance that will surely see him returning in future productions.

The one female voice was a powerful one, belonging as it did to the magnificently talented songstress and comedy actress, Lindzi Germain.

The company has a long tradition of staging comedy musicals with the distinct lack of an orchestra pit. Every single note was played and sung live on stage, and the music was as tight as any band of professional musicians without the added complications of stage direction, dialogue and slapstick comedy. This talented cast made it look so easy.

Council Depot Blues is a 5-star show with all the musical mirth that we’ve come to love and expect from Liverpool’s Royal Court.

It runs until the 24th of March – Don’t miss it.

By |March 9th, 2018|0 Comments

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Her Benny

Evie Kaufman and Louie Gray

What an absolute delight it was to photograph this show, and its talented cast, both adults and youngsters alike.

Every time I looked around me in the auditorium, I was struck by the awe and adulation on the faces, and at times, it wasn’t difficult to detect a tear or two as well.

The cast list was as impressive in number as the performances were in terms of talent. More than twenty adult actors and no fewer than forty youngsters made up the cast, and every one of them as accomplished in the singing, dancing and acting departments as you could possibly ask for.

The youngsters were split into three “teams” who would alternate on performance nights, so as not to impact too much on their schooling.

On the night we were there, it was Team B “Nell’s Team”, who were on stage, and the stars who shone brightest were little Evie Kaufman in the role of Nell, and Louie Gray, who was ‘her Benny’. Their on-stage presence and the magic they spun as they danced and sang, won the hearts of everyone in the auditorium. How proud must their parents have been!

The play itself first emerged twenty-five years ago from the pen of Anne Dalton, having adapted from a book by novelist Silas K. Hocking, who died in 1935.

The show if very much Anne’s baby, also being producer, director, composer and lyricist. Back then, Her Benny won “The International Quest for New Musicals” award, and has matured over the years into a fine musical that provides an insight into what life must have been like in Victorian times, when the class divide was at its greatest.

This is an absolute gem of a show. A definite ‘Must-see’.

Her Benny runs at the Royal Court, Liverpool, until February 10th.

 

 

 

By |January 31st, 2018|3 Comments

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The Scouse Nativity

Forget everything you ever read about The Nativity.

History has been re-written. And this time, the writers and soothsayers have even out-trumped the American pussy- ̶g̶r̶a̶b̶b̶i̶n̶g̶ footing president’s re-defining of the significance of Jerusalem.

The Scouse Nativity has to be the most controversial, and the most hilarious telling of that two thousand and eighteen year old story. And, it has to be said, probably no less accurately than the multitude of previous “official” versions of that particular fairy tale.

Messers Duckworth, Scholfield, Fletcher and Fletcher excelled in their comedic roles of Herod, Terry, Joseph and Jerry.

The beautiful Hayley Hampton excelled in her role of the virgin mother Mary, with the singing voice of an angel.

The voluptuous Lindzi Germain dominated the stage – or at least the air space above the stage – as she flew in and out of the plot as the fixer Angel Gabriel, and into our hearts as the brilliant comedy actress that she is.

Completing this unholy trinity is the clumsy, comical, charismatic Keddy Sutton, who had us in stitches in her role a the hapless Lil, and captivated us with her spontaneous musical impressions of Cilla Black.

All credit to Kevin Fearon who, in writing this his second Royal Court Christmas show, has maintained and built upon the unique style of “adult panto”  created by Fred Lawless seven years ago.

Credit too, to director Cal McCrystal for interpreting the script and feeding it to the seven laughter-hungry actors; and to impresario Howard Grey, who’s musical direction can transform standards onto new hilarious Royal Court magical musical standards.

I have to say, the set design is one of the best ever. It’s the first time I have ever seen a huge “pop-up” book on stage, with the actors themselves turning the pages as the story progressed.

From such fabulous performances, it seems almost wicked to pick out any one favourite. But if I had to nominate my ‘man of the match’ it would be Drew Scholfield for his portrayal of an unholy Jeremy Kyle in the final scene.  There wasn’t a dry seat in the house.

If you are a theatre -goer, this will be the best thing you’ll have seen all year. Or if you go after Christmas (the show runs until January 13th) it will be the best way to start 2018.

And if you are not a ‘theatre-goer’, do go and see this play. You will be converted.

The Scouse Nativity gets a resounding FIVE STARS from me.

By |December 7th, 2017|0 Comments

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