Reviews from shows, plays, comedies and music events.

The Royal at The Royal Court

If the symptoms you are suffering include a lack of slapstick and innuendo, well Oooh-Er matron, get yourself admitted at The Royal. And I don’t mean Liverpool’s new flagship hospital. I’m talking about the city’s Royal Court Theatre.

In fact, everyone is talking about this fabulous comedy written by, and starring, Lindzi Germain, who plays hospital tea-trolly dolly, Teresa McDonald. Additional material was supplied by Angela Simms and Lynn Francis, who respectively play Nurse Florence and the magnificently loud-mouthed and disorderly Ward Orderly, Mo McGuire.

The play is set in the very last medical ward to be evacuated at the old Liverpool Royal Hospital on the day the demolition team move in with their jack hammers and wrecking ball.

These three talented ladies have built on the foundations of the “Carry-on” comedies and taken the slapstick and innuendo to a whole new level of hilarity. Everyone else has already moved to the brand new hospital, and in the last ward to close before the demolition crew move in, they go about the business of saving lives whilst the crumbling old hospital building, quite literally, comes crashing down around their ears.

One of the lives they save is that of the grumpy nil-by-mouth-unless-it’s-alcohol patient Walter Bush, played by the inimitable Alan Stocks. With no doctor available, rookie nurse Florence, who’s training involved watching every episode of ‘Casualty’, removes his appendix to the sound of the program’s theme tune.

When the wrecking ball struck, the very convincing jaded hospital ward, became an equally convincing disaster site right before the audience’s eyes. There was no lights-out or behind-the-curtain scene shifting. It was engineered in a manner that should earn set designer Mark Walters an Oscar (or whatever awards set designers get).

Then amid the mayhem, demolition man Paddy O’Shaughnessy, played by actor Danny O’Brien, gallantly arrives on the scene, setting nurse Florence’s heart a’fluttering and ultimately becoming hero of the hour.

Sadly, one patient didn’t make it. Mrs Llewellyn died in her hospital bed just fifteen minutes into the play, despite nurse Florence’s shockingly bad best efforts with the defibrillator. Actor Phillip Hesteltine might not of had a single line to learn but must surely get the Golden Bedpan award for “Best Corpse”. He was on stage for the entire play, remaining straight-faced and ashen throughout, whilst enduring a string of hilarious indignities.

The prospect of ‘corpsing’ on stage is every actor’s nightmare. And many will tell you that it is most likely to happen while you are playing dead!

The Royal is a delightful fast-moving comedy jam-packed with wonderful one-liners, lots of action and has a great story-line running through it. All six actors did this clever script proud and were a credit to director Cal McCrystal.

The first week saw the theatre running out of seats faster than the NHS is running out of beds. So if you want an injection of fabulous fun, get your self on the waiting list now before it’s run at The Royal Court ends on the 23rd of September. Box Office

By |September 3rd, 2017|0 Comments

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Lonesome West Review

I must have seen Paul Duckworth a good half dozen or so times at The Royal Court in recent years. Yet I’ve just realised that I’d only ever seen a fraction of his zany and expressive humour.

To use the phraseology of Martin McDonagh’s dark Irish comedy, he was fecking brilliant!

He brought the character Valene Connor to life in a way lesser thespians might have been accused of over-acting. Yet here he was, a cross between the pythonesque Eric Idle and Marty Feldman without the squint, delivering his lines with impeccable timing, convincingly portraying the spoilt brat in a volatile and troubled brotherly relationship.

Coleman was the other half of this simmering sibling quagmire. Played by Keiran Cunningham, he was the quieter and less demonstrative of the two, whilst being equally as funny, and just as scary, as they squared up to each other in an intense fraternal power struggle.

Then there was the tragic Father Welsh. I kept seeing Stephen Tompkinson but I’ve been assured it was actor Alan Devally. His lugubrious lakeside monologue at the start of part two was extremely moving and quite magnificent.

The sweet young actress Anne O’Riordan played the even younger and no less sweet Girleen Kelleher, who bounced around imparting little shafts of light into the dark story-line.

As dark as this play was, the dialogue was fast and funny, and all four actors played a blinder. The Irish humour was brilliant and the accents very convincing, which wouldn’t have been a problem for  O’Riordan and Devally, hailing as they do from Waterford and Galway respectively.

4.5 ✰ 
Lonesome West gets four and a half of my five stars. It is a different type of comedy compared to the Royal Court’s usual offerings, but no less enjoyable, and one not to be missed.

In fact the only thing I didn’t like about it was that damn silly title that gives the impression you’re off to see a wild west cowboy play.

By |April 30th, 2017|0 Comments

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Lost Soul at The Royal Court Liverpool

Hark back a while  to when Terry and Smigger copped off with sisters Pat and Donna, under the flashing disco lights in a city club, as they gyrated to the soul music of the seventies.

It was a time when the lads had curly perms and a droopy moustache, and the girls put their heart and soul into enjoying life.

Now fast forward to the present day. It’s the girls who are sporting the perms and fighting a losing battle against a furry top lip, whilst the lads are wandering around like lost souls. How have these relationships survived the test of time? Have they flourished or failed?

One thing is for sure… When Bob Eaton takes a Dave Kirby script and directs a cast of talented thespians which happens to include Royal Court regulars Lindzi Germain, Andrew Schofield, Lenny Wood and Jake Abraham, the story’s gonna be a good one for sure, and with a lorra laughs along the way.

The play cleverly flips back and forth between the two eras, keeping the stage hands extra busy with the complex scenery changes.

It is a play that makes the most of Schofield’s mastery of comedic timing and Lindzi Germain’s wonderful expressions as they deliver line after line of sardonic humour.

Nobody pays the dim-wit better than Lenny Wood whose vacant inane grin cracks me up every time.

And with his excellent portrayal of the down-trodden, cheated-upon Terry, Jake Abraham brought out the mothering instincts of every woman in the audience.

Liverpudlian actress Catherine Rice acquitted herself admirably in her first ever role at The Royal Court, playing Terry’s cheating wife Pat.

The bad guy was played by James Spofforth, and the young dolly-bird clubber by Paislie Reid, both making a return after some time away. It has to be said that along with Abraham and Wood, these two performed one of the cleverest ‘slow-motion’ fight scenes I’ve ever seen on stage.

In a departure from the usual format, there was no live music. In recent years, having the actors sing and play instruments, and even sometimes having the band on the stage instead of the orchestra pit, has  become something of a hallmark of Royal Court comedies. That’s not to say it was a disappointment. This play, after all, wasn’t written as a musical.

If you fancy watching a comedy with great gags, a decent story-line and loads of nostalgia, Lost Soul will fit the bill very nicely.

4/5 ★
It gets four stars from me, along with a recommendation to get along and see it between now and April 8th. And don’t forget – if you book in the stalls you can add a fine meal, served at your table prior to the show, for an extra tenner.

 

 

By |March 18th, 2017|1 Comment

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The Lighting was Hell, the band were Merry

Listen while you read

It’s no secret that one of my favourite folk rock bands in the Wigan based Merry Hell.

They are lively, uplifting, and highly entertaining. They write songs in the modern folk ethos, with keen, wry, often humorous, observations of life and love. And when touched by discrimination, injustice and political malfeasance, they protesteth well through the medium of song.

We’ve had them perform at our own folk and acoustic club on a number of occasions, and indeed they will be back again in November [Link].

They are a great band to photograph too. The three Kettle bothers; gravelly voiced Andrew in his dapper suits, the plectrum chewing John with his animated guitar style, and the hirsute and behatted Bob with a face full of character that randomly breaks into the widest of smiles. And of course there’s the lovely Virginia, who is great to photograph because of her nimble and gesticulous performances, and just because she’s the lovely Virginia.

As this particular gig was at a club in a neighbouring town, I’d awarded myself a night off and left my camera at home, only to find on arrival, an SLR being pressed into my hand. I agreed to the request, quietly self-imposing a “three songs and out” rule so I could relax and enjoy the show.

You will have guessed by now that this is not so much a music review, being filed primarily under “Photography Talk”. Please go here for past Merry Hell reviews, and Here for Ron Lester’s review of the Rhyl gig.

The camera was a Fuji S5. My first digital SLR had been the Fuji S1 which I still have but rarely use. It was low on megapixels and lacked the ability to shoot raw, but I always loved the smooth skin tones produced by the unique pixel structure of  its ‘Super CCD’.

Being a Nikon user, the S5 felt comfortable, based as it was on the 2006 iteration of the Nikon D200. Because it was dark and there was a gig to enjoy, I didn’t have the time nor inclination to fully familiarise myself, so I went with the camera’s settings as they were. Luckily, I spotted the fact the auto-focus was set to dynamically focus using the centre spot, so not wanting to trawl through an unfamiliar menu, I utilised the focus lock button the ensure it didn’t keep drifting to focus on the background.

For this type of shoot, in the inevitable low level lighting, I tend to shoot on Shutter Prioriy at a 30th with auto ISO.

As well as the four main band members, there were the back line bass and fiddle players, Nick Davies  and Neil McCartney to consider. Getting all six in one shot was always going to be a challenge, so I altered my vantage point for each of the three songs. Whilst I was precariously perched  atop a rickety bar stool, Virginia announced she wanted everyone to sway along to “Bury Me Naked”. As infectious as the music was, I declined, not wanting to be buried just yet, naked or otherwise.

“I’ll send you the files”, he said, as I handed back the camera . What he meant was “will you process them for me too”. Anyway I didn’t really mind. Ron’s a mate, and he never objects when the tables are turned and I thrust a camera into his hands at our own club.

The following day, three dozen Jpegs appeared in my Dropbox, under-exposed (I knew they would be) and with the colour balance from hell (I knew this too).  What I hadn’t known was that the camera was set to shoot only Jpegs. Ah well. The Fuji’s firmware had done it’s best to cope with the mixture of low power tungsten, halogen and led spot/floods that illuminate the business end of Rhyl Folk & Acoustic’s clubroom, and in doing so had stripped out a hell of a lot of the digital ‘meat’ I am used to dealing with in my own NEF RAW files.

The sliders in Lightroom’s Develop Module looked like  something created by Salvador Dali, but we got there in the end and the images turned out quite reasonable considering the conditions.

I was satisfied with the images and had got to enjoy my first Merry Hell fix of the year.

By |February 14th, 2017|0 Comments

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Brick Up 2 – The Revenge of Ann Twacky

If you were wondering what gave Donald Trump the idea for his Mexican Wall, well I reckon he must have been amongst the 175,000 people who came to see the original “Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels” at The Royal Court.

So successful was Dave Kirby and Nick Allt’s comedy, that it enjoyed no fewer than six runs of up to six weeks each, becoming the theatre’s signature play, and 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 was brilliantly written, its success was based on the fact that – using a footballing analogy – it was something of a local derby, attracting fans from both sides of the Mersey. The posh Wirralites, with their CH post codes, loved the play just as much as the down-to-earth scousers on the L side, even though the ‘first round match’ was won by the scallies across the water.

It became the perfect scouse comedy, and you can’t improve on perfection …or can you? Move over Brick Up, make way for Brick Up 2 – The Wrath Of Ann Twacky. Maybe this time the tables have been turned.

The story picks up where the first “Brick Up” ended, with the mayhem that had been 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 tested and successful formula, the producers chose not only the same writers, but pretty much the same cast. The only changes were to bring in Danny Burns to play entrepreneur Elliot Neston, and Emily Linden to make a brief appearance as a gun-totting anti-terrorist cop.

The excruciatingly posh Eithne Browne (she’s not in real life) returns as Ann Twacky, partnered by Roy Brandon as her formerly down-trodden husband Dennis, who has finally kicked over the traces and grown a pair.

Andrew Schofield is back as the archetype scally and cowboy builder Dicky Lewis. His facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines with perfect timing and comedic inflection, would have you in fits of laughter even if he was reciting from the phone book. And when he dons a frock to transition into the part of Wirral Ladies Group member, Dee Estuary, you can see what a master of comedy this man is.

The third Wirral Ladies character, Liz Card, was played to perfection by Francis Tucker whose wonderful facial, as well as vocalised, innuendo often result in his being cast as the Pantomime Dame, not withstanding 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”.

Along with Dicky Lewis, Gerard Gardner and Nick Walton are The Queensway Three, responsible for the tunnel campaign. 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 Carl Chase, who also steps up throughout the performance to narrate via the medium of song in his wonderful baritone voice.

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 ‘get’ 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 Carl’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 coming back for more.

To sum up… a highly enjoyable and entertaining comedy, regardless of which side of the Mersey you come from. It even trumps the hilarious one-liners we are currently hearing on a daily basis from the farce that is being played out at The White House!

Undeniably Five Stars. Don’t think twice – go and see it!

By sheer coincidence, line improvements by MerseyRail have resulted in a suspension of the Wirral to Liverpool train service for a six week period exactly matching the duration of the play’s run. This prompted the producers to commission a brilliant piece of P.R. in the form of a huge billboard advert at the approach to the Kingsway tunnel, featuring actress Ethne Browne, as Ann Twacky, looking motorists straight in the eye, with the words: The tunnels are next! 

Click image to enlarge

By |February 3rd, 2017|1 Comment

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