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Father O’Flaherty Saves a’r Souls (careful how you say it)

20161019-4802I can tell you from experience, that it’s one of the scariest things – to walk out on stage by yourself, in front of an auditorium full of expectant people. And I imagine it’s even worse when you are about to perform in the very first play that you’ve written yourself. So I wonder what the best tactic should be when that auditorium is full of journalists who have turned up especially to review your show.

In such circumstances, I guess you should choose your words carefully for your opening gambit. Well, how about, in your best drunken Irish priest accent, something along the lines of: “Ah. Press Night. Just look at you all, yer great shower of bastards”!

20161019-4905Haha! Only the inimitable Alan Stocks could carry off a stunt like that in front of one of the most critical of theatre audiences: The Reviewers. Not only did he get away with it, but every one of that shower of bastards spent the next two hours laughing until their ribs ached, before rising for one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed on a Press Night .

In The Beginning
Father O’Flaherty is a character originally conceived by Liverpool playwright Fred Lawless for “Merry Ding Dong”, his first ever Christmas show for the Royal Court, and Alan Stocks was cast for the part. I remember watching that play back in 2009 and thinking that this was the best drunken priest I’ve ever seen played by a stone cold sober actor.

20161019-4922He went down so well with Royal Court audiences that Father O’Flaherty was written into the theatre’s next Christmas show and the next, and the… Well I think you get the picture.  I get the feeling Fred Lawless came up with so many fabulous scripts by starting with a title and figuring how Father O’Flaherty going fit into this story line, before writing the rest of the script around him!

You Can’t Get Rid of the Good Father
Alan made the character his own. But with Fred Lawless taking a sabbatical from writing the Christmas show, it looked like it looked like the good father’s run was about to come to an end.

20161019-4895But the Royal Court producers were having none of it. They asked Alan if he would consider writing a new play himself, based entirely around the drunken Irish priest.

It was quite a challenge for someone who’d never actually written anything himself before, and he was the first to admit it was a somewhat daunting task.

Alan needn’t have worried, Having come to know Father O’Flaherty rather intimately through the five or six previous plays, the whole thing came to together – not only effortlessly, but rather brilliantly.

20161019-4870With the help of four talented fellow actors Paul Duckworth (Father Devlin and God), Clare Bowles (Mrs Ruby), Helen Carter and Keddy Sutton (who played the good Sisters, Harley and Davidson) and one of the best directors in the business, Bob Eaton, they have come up with one of the craziest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. And this is no mean feat in what has been a particularly good year for scouse comedies!

Paul, who we are used to seeing cast as the bad guy, played a devilishly phoney cleric and an almighty big bad God.

Being Irish, Clare had no trouble with the accent as the priest’s grumpy housekeeper. The grumpy bit was damn good acting though, because she’s a lovely lady in reality.

There were some cracking musical moments amid the comedy. Helen Carter, in particular, belted out some superb numbers.

And Keddy Sutton… Well what can I say… Playing the part of a nun with multiple personality disorder, she hilariously transformed into some wonderfully convincing characters, including Peggy Mitchell and Cilla Black.

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Alan Stocks’ ten minute monologue alone is worth the ticket price.

About to deliver a sermon, and having misplaced his bible, the good priest declares: “Feck it, I don’t need the big book”. His cleverly scripted ‘Ad lib’ of the Gospel according to ‘Cool Hand Luke’ left hardly a dry eye in the house – and the same goes for a few of the seats too, I wouldn’t wonder!

In the league of five star comedies, Father O’Flaherty Saves Our Souls is definitely a five star plus. Do yourselves a favour. Get along to Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre before the 12th of November. I promise you won’t regret it.

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By |October 20th, 2016|0 Comments

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Twopence to Cross the Mersey

20160921-4429Adapted from the autobiographical book by best-selling author Helen Forrester, Twopence to Cross the Mersey tells of a family who return to Liverpool in the early thirties, having lost everything in The Great Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash.

In adapting the story for the theatre, writer Rob Fennah chose to have the actors narrate the story from the stage, taking it in turns to intersperse the narrative with the dialogue as they enacted the various scenes.

This  is not an easy technique to get right, and is one that could easily have left the audience lost and confused.

In this case however, Rob Fennah had tackled the script with text book precision, without losing sight of the emotion and compassion. And together with the masterful direction of Bob Eaton, and a dedicated and talented cast, they executed it to perfection and kept the audience attentive and enthralled throughout.

20160921-4424Certainly, watching the story unfold, made this reviewer reflect on the fact that however much we feel badly done-by under today’s austerity measures, we really don’t know we are born. It also gave me something of an insight to the lot of my dear late father who was born just fifteen days after Helen Forrester and was a young teenager in Liverpool at the very time in which this play is set.

Each of the actors conveyed the harshness of the situation and the desperation that families, especially the large families, must have felt. But as hard as the times were, the people of Liverpool still managed to find a little humour, and this was delivered magnificently by Royal Court stalwarts Eithne Browne and Jake Abraham, in measured amounts of comedy that didn’t take anything away from the drama.

20160921-4422Whereas the rest of the cast portrayed three or more characters throughout the play – and in Eithne Browne’s case no fewer than nine – Maria Lovelady played just the one, that of the central character of Helen Forrester herself.

And it was no mean feat. She was on the stage for pretty much a hundred percent of the time and she captured the hearts of the audience as she went through the extremes of emotions from sheer joy to the depths of despair.

The Royal Court is renowned for its rawkus comedies. This of course is a drama. But it’s not a dark and heavy drama. It”s a play about this family coped with hard times. And in fact, Twopence to Cross the Mersey ends with a light at the end of the tunnel, but at the same time, knowing that the Second World War was yet to come, you are left wanting more.

20160921-4440Well there is more to come. For Helen Forrester wrote four novels about her time in this great city and writer Rob Fennah is already working on the sequel “By the Waters of Liverpool”.

This play gets five stars from me.  And although it will continue on a tour of six other Merseyside and North Wales venues, you really should get to see it at the magnificent Royal Court before it departs on October 8th – and that, as they say, is my two penn’orth!

By |September 25th, 2016|0 Comments

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Folk on the Dock

20160827-4076The Hell was Merry, the Eleanor was Nelly, plus a bespectacled dog who’s been on the telly.

 

Liverpool held it’s first ever “Folk on the Dock” festival over the Bank Holiday weekend. BBC Radio DJ Janice Long hosted the event, and with over 30 acts performing on two main outdoor stages, two concert venues and several smaller stages (some on the deck of boats moored in the Albert Dock), there was something for everyone.

Best of all, apart from the evening indoor concerts, the whole thing was free!

We were only able to go on the Saturday this time, so we missed out on seeing some of our favourite acts, but next year I have a feeling the entire weekend will be on our itinerary.

Here are some of the highlights featuring Folk Rock Band Merry Hell, Liverpool singer Eleanor Nelly, a couple of Shanty Singers and a bespectacled dog 🙂 .

By |August 30th, 2016|0 Comments

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A Fistful of Collars Plus Frocks, Frillies and Fabulous Fun

Six years ago I went to see a brand new play by Liverpool playwright Fred Lawless.

20160722-3033I remember writing back then, that it was one of the funniest plays I’d ever seen and that the only things throughout the entire performance that weren’t funny were Suzanne Collins’s legs.

Those legs are definitely not funny.

Those are serious legs!

20160722-2966A Fistful of Collars is back at the city’s Royal Court Theatre with the original cast, bar one, and it is just as funny, if not more so.

Directed once again by the talented Bob Eaton who has the knack of knowing exactly how to shape a script into the rawkus type of comedy for which the Royal Court is renowned, resulting in a tight, fast-moving play with the right mix of innuendo, slapstick and farce, liberally seasoned of course with that very special brand of scouse humour.

20160722-2973Set in a failing Dry-cleaners, the three owners, played by Eithne Browne, Angela Simms and Lindzi Germain, set up a scam to hire out customers’ designer dresses. They need the extra cash to pay their crooked landlord (Jake Abraham).

When the landlord’s P.A. is about to walk out wearing a dress belonging to a famous footballer’s wife, the trio’s feckless apprentice (Lenny Wood) knocks her out with a lungful of  dry cleaning solvent, the main constituent of which is chloroform.

How actress Suzanne Collins stopped herself from falling apart laughing as the tight red dress was unceremoniously stripped from her “unconscious” body is a miracle.

20160722-3043I’ll not spoil the rest of the plot for you, but suffice to say it involves a big bag of money, a gun, and the obligatory policeman, played by that inimitable master of comedy, Alan Stocks.

And whereas Suzanne Collins’s character emerged from her chloroform-induced coma as her same beautiful self, things turned rather ugly for the policeman who’d suffered the same fate.

20160722-3082He regained consciousness believing he was special agent Bond – Brook Bond – and took a trip in the tumble drier!

First Night
Because I was going to be away for Press Night, I got to review the play on it’s first night. But you wouldn’t have known it. The play was as tight and as slick as if this talented bunch of actors had properly settled into the run despite the six years that had passed since they’d done it all before.

Being set in a dry-cleaners’ they had obviously ironed out any problems well before the first curtain-up. Even new recruit Angela Simms slotted seamlessly into the cast as the cutest, dizziest doll at the laundry, alongside the amazing Ethne Browne and that mistress of expression, Lindzi Germain.

5starA Fistful of Collars is a 5 Star Comedy and I really cannot recommend it too highly. It is what the Royal Court is all about.

Catch it at The Royal Court Liverpool until August 20th.

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By |July 28th, 2016|0 Comments

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Saturday’s Acoustica Sessions at Llangollen Fringe Festival

Mike Clarke

Organiser and MC Mike Clarke

For the past few years the Fringe Festival has grown into a major event for Llangollen.

Acoustica has become a part of that festival, taking place on the Saturday afternoon between 1.00pm and 8.00pm.

This is a purely Acoustic event introducing new acts (to the area/event).  No Amplifiers or effects pedals, nice and simple, and back to basics, with just instrument and vocal mics to reinforce the sound.

This year’s  Acoustica event took place on Saturday the 16th of July at The Hand Hotel, on Bridge Street.

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The Glaaswalkers

The event was opened by The Glaaswalkers featuring the event’s organisers, Brian Connaughton and Mike ”Squeezebox” Clark.

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Brian Connaughton

The Glaaswalkers describe themselves as “Three Blokes , one woman, one fiddle, one bass, a guitar, three squeezeboxes, seven gob irons, and various whistles playing mostly their own stuff A touch of folk, blues and countryish music. The other main band members being Matt Moose,  and Sam Rex Edwards.

After their opening spot, Brian jumped onto the sound desk and generally made sure everyone was mic’d up correctly and Mike talked himself hoarse introducing all the afternoons’ acts whilst perfecting the art of speaking through the widest and most genuine smile you have ever seen.

 

Penni Neale

Penni Neale

Next up was Denbigh’s Penni Neal. Penni is a retired lecturer, born in Pwllheli, who developed her love of singing at an early age.

Penni is an active member of the local music scene involved with the Denbigh Folk club and more recently the Ruthin All Styles Music Club.

She sang a wide range of songs in in both Welsh and English leaning heavily on her Folk, Country and Blues roots. Her version of Highway to heaven had the room spellbound.

Chris Birchall

Chris Birchall

Next up was Chris Birchall aka The Hairy Photographer, Chris first got into music in his teens as bassist and vocalist with sixties Merseybeat band, The Executioners.

During his career as a photojournalist, Chris snapped dozens of high profile musicians, including the likes of Clapton, Blondie, The Who, The Jam, The Clash, Sting – the list goes on. And all the time hankering to get back to performing but never having the time.

Now retired he brought the songs of Bob Dylan, Willy Nelson, The Beatles, Christy Moore and Damian Rice to Llangollen, alternating between his his vintage EKO Ranger and Washburn 12 String.

John Williams

Hailing from the Wirral, John Williams is a singer/songwriter with folk roots as his main genre. His set included some of his own compositions and songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler.

He performed Romeo and Juliet as you’ve never heard it before, played on  an eight string baritone mandolin. Being a multi instrumentalist, for this set he also used a four string tenor guitar.

Isabella Crowther was next up. An Indie/Acoustic artist with a lovely voice. Although from North Wales she is currently based in London, gigging the local music scene. Her set included songs from her debut E.P. released this summer.

Isabella Crowther

Isabella Crowther

In a nice touch, the organisers invited local pensioner Peter Meilleur on stage to recite a William Blake poem.

A last-minute addition to the line-up was local musician Chris Burton who gave us a taste of the songs he can be found busking on the town hall steps on the weekends, raising money for the air ambulance.

Next up was Theo Laughlin is a talented and colourful musician performing as something of a one-man band with guitar, foot drum and stomp tambourine, He sang a mixture of his own humorous and serious works with a few well known sing-alongs too!!

Theo Laughlin

Theo Laughlin

Listing his main musical influences as the delta blues, jug bands, country blues,  Steely Dan, Ry Cooder, Clapton, and Dylan, Andy Bob Beaumont did a fine set including his song Red to Blond. before dashing off back to Bangor for another gig. Andy Bob also has a live session booked for next Monday night on Tudno FM at 10.00pm.

The headline act this year was the locally-based Alt-folk, Sunshine Pop band, Campfire Social. They took to the stage for the last hour with a highly entertaining set. Undeterred by a gremlin in the PA system, they jumped off the stage to get up close and personal for the last half of their set.

All in all it was a wonderful  afternoon’s entertainment thanks mainly to the hard work of the two enthusiastic organisers Brian Connaughton and Mike Clark.

(Click the pictures to enlarge)

Headliners Campfire Social

Headliners Campfire Social

 

By |July 17th, 2016|0 Comments

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