Reviews from shows, plays, comedies and music events.

Brick Up 2 – The Wrath of Ann Twacky

Forget about Brexit. The big story of the day is Wirrlexit – in which the Leavers, with their CH postcodes, can’t wait to cut ties with the rest of Merseyside.

So successful was Dave Kirby and Nick Allt’s 2016 comedy, “Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels“, it enjoyed no fewer than six sell-out runs and became the theatre’s signature play. introducing thousands to the very special brand of scouse humour for which the Royal Court is known and loved.

Quite apart from the fact it had a brilliant script, that success was due in no small part to it being something of a local derby, attracting fans from both sides of the Mersey. It seems the posh Wirralites loved the play just as much as the down-to-earth Scousers on the Liverpool side, even though that first round was won by those scallies across the water.

It became the perfect scouse comedy. But whoever said you can’t improve on perfection didn’t reckon on Allt and Kirby coming up with Brick Up 2 – The Wrath Of Ann Twacky. And maybe this time the tables have been turned!

The story picks up where the first “Brick Up” ended, amid the mayhem caused by the sealing-up of the tunnels and the explosive demise of the Runcorn Bridge.

It tells of the joy and the despair resulting from these acts of “terrorism”; of the joy and despair that followed the tunnels reopening; and of the joy and despair in the plot to do it all over again.

Sticking to the tried and tested formula, the producers chose the same director and pretty much the same cast as for Brick Up 2’s 2017 debut.

The excruciatingly posh Eithne Browne returns as Ann Twacky (she’s actually nothing like that in real life), partnered by Roy Brandon as her formerly down-trodden husband Dennis, who appears to have kicked over the traces and grown a pair.

Andrew Schofield is back as the archetype scally and cowboy builder Dicky Lewis. He’s the sort of actor whose facial expressions and perfect timing as he delivers his lines would have you in fits of laughter even if he was reciting from the phone book. And when he dons a frock to become Dee Estuary, a member of the Wirral Ladies Group, you can see what a master of comedy this man is.

The third Wirral Ladies character, Liz Card, was played to absolute perfection by Francis Tucker whose wonderful facial and vocalised, innuendo often results in his being cast as the Pantomime Dame, notwithstanding his wide-ranging appearances on stage, film and television.

The lovely Suzanne Collins showed us that her character Maggie was something of a turn-coat by becoming an imperfectly posh Margaret who had difficulty keeping up both the pretence and the accent, hilariously slipping back into “The Queen’s Scouse” when caught off guard. Quite apart from being exceedingly easy on the eye, Suzanne’s superb singing and dancing skills were much in evidence throughout.

Dicky Lewis’s Queensway Three cohorts in the tunnel campaign, were Gerard Gardner and Nick Walton. Gerard is played by seasoned Royal Court comedy actor Paul Duckworth with the face that launched a thousand laughs, and the part of Nick Walton is played by Jake Abraham, who also steps up with his guitar throughout the performance to narrate the story via the medium of song.

All credit to Director Bob Eaton for his visualisation of a great script, and Musical Director Howard Gray for bringing the show musically to life via the talented musicians in the pit and on the stage.

It had crossed my mind that to understand this play, one would have had to have seen the original Brick Up, but thanks to the way “the story so far” has been cleverly woven into Jake’s mellifluous narration, Brick Up virgins can enjoy this fab comedy just as much as the Brick Up groupies who’ve spent the past decade or so coming back for more.

To sum up, this is a highly enjoyable and entertaining comedy, regardless of which side of the Mersey you reside. It is filled with hilarious one-liners that are even better than the ones we hear on a daily basis from the farce being played out in The House of Commons!

This one absolutely gets Five Stars from me. Don’t think twice – go and see it!

By |March 18th, 2019|0 Comments

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Hello Yellow Breck Road

Devotees of the Royal Court will know how they love to take a classic and turn it into a contemporary scouse comedy.

The Christmas shows, in particular, go far beyond predictable pantomime rewrites. They have a nack of taking the raw bones of a storyline, throwing away the script and rebuilding from scratch upon the original foundations. Some of the more memorable being The Scouse Cinderella, Hitchhikers Guide to Fazakerley, Nightmare on Lime Street, and Little Scouse on the Prairie.

And so it is with Gerry Lindford’s Yellow Breck Road, which doffs its cap to The Wizard of Oz and then takes off on its own unique trajectory. And what better strategy for Gerry’s second stage play than to aim for the Moon.

Just like in MGM’s classic film, the play’s central character is called Dorothy, or in this case Dot for short, delightfully played by Gemma Brodrick, but the closest we get to a Tin Man is the feckless handyman Barry, resplendent in a NASA space suit.

Everything that can go wrong, is going wrong for Dot and her family. She is an agoraphobic young woman with a mobile phone welded to her ear and her parents are facing eviction from their Breck Road home. Then things get a thousand times worse when Dot’s uncle Barry, played by Jake Abraham, performs a botched electrical repair causing a shocking accident. This puts poor Dot into a coma, during which she is transported, not to Munchkinland like her Wizard of Oz namesake, but to the Moon, no less.

The theatre’s creative set builders put the recently recommissioned revolving stage to good use, transporting us seamlessly from the family’s living room to the surface of the moon and back, as the cast were kept on their toes delivering cracking comedy and ‘soft lad’ slapstick, plus some touching and poignant moments too.

Paul Duckworth, Jamie Greer, and Lynn Francis, in particular, had us in stitches as, from scene to scene, they morphed from their adult characters into their 7-year-old selves and then into teenagers.

And Eithne Browne’s portrayal of a grumpy old granny was just magnificent with an abundance of toilet humour, cranky one-liners and with a nice dose of pathos thrown in for good measure.

Yellow Breck Road is an excellent second stage play from the pen of Gerry Linford, honed to perfection by director Bob Eaton. It runs until March 2nd and is well worth giving your chuckle muscles an outing.

 

By |February 9th, 2019|0 Comments

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The Scouse Cinderella

Well, here we are again. It’s that time of year when everything goes tattyfilarious. And when it comes to getting into the Christmas spirit, there’s nothing like a good old traditional pantomime.

And The Scouse Cinderella is nothing like a good old traditional pantomime.

“Oh no it is”

“Oh yes it isn’t”

The Royal Court has a tradition of putting on raucous comedies at Christmas time. Grown-up shows with a seasonal flavour aimed squarely at grown-up audiences. A sort of antidote, if you like, to the usual Yuletide family shows.

The Scouse Cinderella, however, is more closely aligned to traditional pantomime than any staged at this venue over the past ten or so years. Its title alone, suggests so – and it has two Ugly Sisters, a Charming Prince, Buttons and a Wicked Auld Fairy Godmother.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘The Court’ has bowed and curtseyed to the countless collection of children’s charades being staged throughout the land.

Let’s put it like this, it’s defo not for kids – in fact, it says so on the programme – and if you’re going to take your granny, make sure she’s au-fait with the expletives. This show has less ‘veiled innuendo’ and more ‘in yer face’ coarse comedy; less double-entendre and more ‘exactly as intended’.

And that, of course, is precisely what the producers intended. It is a comedy designed to delight the faithful hoards of laughter lovers who have flocked through the theatre’s hallowed art deco entrance year in year out for their dose of adult Christmas fun.

Writer-director Kevin Fearon took no chances when it came to casting, selecting actors who know exactly how hard to hit the funny bone.

The Fletcher brothers Stephen and Michael, perfectly play the proud prince and the down-trodden Buttons. Comical Keddy Sutton is, one minute an Owl, the next a flatulent Mayor. The larger than life Lindzi Germain is magnificent as the scheming Fairy Godmother with a singing voice that is one of the most powerful in the business.

Also larger than life is the darling Hayley Sheen, whose singing voice is as sweet as Lindzi’s is strong, and whose Cinderella outfits were carefully chosen to conceal her progressing pregnancy. Due to the fact that this show runs for eight of those waist-expanding 36 weeks, the producers have very wisely engaged an under-study for the duration.

Eva McKenna will not be languishing in the wings, however, as she was also assigned the part of a hilariously inept stagehand who continuously “breaks a leg” (theatre parlance for appearing on stage) and manages to break everything she touches. This adds such a clever extra layer of comedy that makes me hope they have got an under-study for the understudy, should Eva be called upon to step into Cinderella’s glass slippers.

And as Ugly Sisters go, you would have to walk many a pantomime mile to find two finer examples of the genre than the perfectly dour Paul Duckfield and the amazingly hilarious Andrew Schofield.  Their escalatingly drunken version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas” was one of the funniest things you will ever see. Pure musical comedy gold.

If all you do is sit watching rubbish television this Christmas, you will be missing out on far better entertainment, with more humour than a hundred hapless stand-ups and better music than an extortionate estimation of X-Factors, all served up live by a truly talented cast at this wonderful theatre.

The Scouse Cinderella runs (at least) until the 19th of January. There is no guarantee that the run might be extended as sometimes happens, so do get your tickets booked. You really don’t want to miss this one!

There aren’t enough stars to give it a star rating. Honestly – it’s just too good!

By |December 4th, 2018|0 Comments

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There’s Something About Simon

Photo by Mark McNulty

There is something about the music of Paul Simon.  It was the sound of my generation. When I hung up the bass guitar that had accompanied my teenage journey through the clubs and pubs of the north-west, I bought myself a vintage EKO and a couple of songbooks. After six or seven years of thumbing out basslines to the  sound of the Mersey beat, I was ready for something a little more folkie and so it was the Paul Simon Song Book and later, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, that helped me realise that one man’s ceiling really can be another man’s floor.

I didn’t get very far off that floor though, my efforts to learn fingerstyle guitar were thwarted by day-job, marriage and family, but I always loved those Paul Simon songs and am still crazy about them after all these years.

Gary, Skeet and Christian at Ruthin AllStyles

Fast forward several decades to the Spring of 2014 when a Liverpool lad, by the name of Gary Edward Jones, came to perform a showcase at my local folk club. I was knocked out by his music and we became good friends.

Soon after we met, I told him how much he looked, and sounded, like Paul Simon.  It appears I wasn’t the first, and in fact, it had become something of an annoyance to Gary that people kept pointing out these similarities. He was and still is, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, so why would he be interested in going down the route of covering another artists songs?

Photo by Victor Pennington

The Cabinet Maker
Gary’s first album “The Cabinet Maker” is a testament to just how good this man is. The album launch at Liverpool’s magnificent St George’s Hall that November was hands down one of the most beautiful musical events I have had the honour of being present at. The album was met with a huge amount of critical acclaim and enjoyed 17 weeks in the upper reaches of the Radio Caroline charts.

But as pretty much any unsigned musician will tell you, such success may well spawn recognition, CD sales and a lot more gigs but rarely does it go far enough to be able to give up the day job.

The Journey Begins
Then in the latter part of 2016, Gary sent me this clip of him singing Kathy’s Song. Testing the water maybe, and whether he really wanted encouragement or not, encouragement he got, from me and from most of his close musical contemporaries.

Having succumbed to all the encouragement, Gary was not going to “just sing and play Paul Simon songs”, he spent hours every day living and breathing Paul Simon. Formerly a “thumb and one finger” Travis-picker, he studied the unique style of the man himself, perfecting every sound and nuance. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly.

Over the years, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my own early strumbling efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

The Epstein Concert
And because Gary’s voice has a similar dynamic range and tone, he made a conscious decision not to attempt to copy Paul Simon’s accent, phrasing and diction. He would just sing the songs naturally in his own voice. The result is amazing. I have found it very easy to close my eyes and convince myself I was actually listening to the man himself.

The success of a ‘tester’ gig in July 2017 in front of 100 people was the thruster rocket that spurred him on and led up to this week’s concerts at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Sitting in the auditorium on the first night, listening to the faultless performance, watching the audience’s reaction and joining them, every single one of them, in the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, I knew It was the end of the first part of his journey and the beginning of what will surely be a much bigger one.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

Something About Simon is absolutely not a tribute act. It is so much more. It is a show combining the music with a narrative that takes the audience on a journey tracing Paul Simon’s footsteps, from his first visit to Britain, playing folk clubs for beers, through his return to his homeland and subsequent rise to fame.

It is no accident that Gary’s repertoire leans heavily on Simons’ early songs, as many of them were written in England, some on Merseyside’s very doorstep.

A nice touch was the way he weaved into the show, during a narrative on how songwriters get their inspiration, two of his own songs. “Oceans” and “Walk You Home” were written way before Gary began flirting with the Paul Simon Songbook. Yet the similarities in the writing style are very apparent.

If like me, you never got to see Paul Simon perform live, you really have got to look out for the “Something About Simon” tour that will inevitably follow.

Gary Edward Jones is an endearing performer, an immaculate guitarist, and a beautiful singer. And the only other person who sounds more like Paul Simon is Paul Simon himself.

Photos are respectively ©Chris Birchall, Victor Pennington, Mark McNulty and Anthony Robling

By |November 13th, 2018|0 Comments

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Maggie May – Review

♪♫♪ And she’ll never walk down Lime Street any more…♫♪♫

But she did. Right down Lime Street, around the corner, past what used to be the Penny Farthing and into the stage door of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre.

Although that iconic song does not actually feature in the play, Maggie May the Musical is very much about that very same forlorn Irish lass who found herself lost and destitute in Liverpool halfway through the twentieth century.

Her story has been brought to life through the script of visionary writer and director Bob Eaton, and is told via a whole raft of wonderful original songs composed by his partner Sayan Kent.

In what has become a tradition at this lovely art deco theatre, the orchestra forsakes the seclusion and comfort of ‘the pit’, taking to the stage itself, with every single member of the eleven-strong cast harmonising and playing their instruments as they act out the play through the medium of song.

All credit to musical director Howard Gray and to the talented actors who performed seemingly effortlessly without the safety net of having a music score in front of them, whilst at the same time dancing and remembering their lines, positions and stage direction. They made an immensely difficult task look simple.

When the Royal Court was rebuilt in the 30s, it was given a revolving stage which eventually broke and was neglected for many years. Happily, this has now been restored and Maggie May is the first production to see this feature fully functional. The ability to segue from one scene to another without any apparent break in the action or the dialogue meant the play could proceed without any interruption to the boundless energy that emanated from that stage from curtain up to curtain call.

This brand new musical is as good as anything you might find in the ‘West End”, and the fact it is a story about Liverpool, performed in Liverpool, makes it that much more special. It has everything a musical should have and everything about it is wonderful. A bittersweet tale told with just the right amount of comedy. If it had been a challenge to musically interpret the highs and the lows, the joy and poignancy; then the writers, directors and the cast met the challenge and conquered it.

Maggie May the Musical gets a full five stars from me. It runs until November 10th. Don’t miss it.

By |October 19th, 2018|0 Comments

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