Back in the day, when Ted Heath was getting tough on pay and tough on trade unions, a newly qualified teacher in Liverpool by the name of Bleasdale was struggling on seventeen quid a week. So much so, that he found himself moonlighting for a fiver a day as a security guard down on the docks.
And whilst the other security guards had learned to ‘turn an blind eye’, this young man kept an ever watchful eagle eye on the comings and goings. Not for reasons of actual ‘security’ however, for although he may not have known it at the time, Alan Bleasdale was learning all about the scally culture, the pilfering, the humour and camaraderie of the dockers, and their fractious relationship with authority. It was a unique insight and an opportunity to amass a stockpile of characters, yarns and witticisms that would form the basis of the stage play he wrote six years later.
And now, on the fortieth anniversary of the play’s première at the Liverpool Playhouse, it is back on stage at The Royal Court to remind us just how much things have changed between then and now Down on the Dock Road.
The cleverly designed set realistically replicates the cargo hold of a ship docked in the Port of Liverpool. And with no fewer than eleven cast members, the producers were tasked with choosing the right men for the job. For although the play is laced with humour, more specifically scouse humour, it does have a more serious side with moments of poignancy and drama. It is a departure from the rawkus slapstick silliness that the Royal Court faithful have come to expect, but it will certainly not leave them disappointed.
Michael Ledwich and Paul Duckworth are another two actors who have earned their stripes in front of Royal Court audiences and tonight’s performances only served to cement their position.
And there were some great performances too from Royal Court virgins James Duke, Derek Barr, Conrad Nelson and Daniel Taylor.
It was a stroke of genius bringing in the Coronation Street double act, Les Dennis and Oliver Farnworth. There was certainly no need to ask Les whether he was any good at heart attacks – they’d only have had to watch him playing the hapless Michael Rodwell in recent episodes of the soap! Not that Liverpool born Les would have had to audition for the part of Grandad; his last appearance at the Royal Court earned him the Daily Post Best Actor Award for his part in “Jigsy”.
But as a whole, the entire cast did justice to Bleasdale’s excellent and insightful script, and as a nice touch, the entire run has been dedicated to the memory of Liverpool’s godfather of comedy, Micky Finn, who past away this month. Micky had appeared in the play’s first airing forty years ago and in the words of Alan Bleasdale: “was a wonderful, natural comic performer on stage who deserved the standing ovation he received every night”.
Down the Dock Road runs at The Royal Court until 9th of April.