Lively and Topical, Funny and Chilling
Following the closure of their much-loved fringe venue earlier in the year, the Lantern Theatre team have returned with their biggest production, a revival of a black comedy which was first performed at the Playhouse Studio in 1997 and tells the story of the Liverpool People’s Party and its call for Liverpool to be recognized as an independent republic by the UN, the EU, NATO and of course most importantly UEFA. All these organisations existed 9 years ago when writer Andrew Cullen penned this piece and whilst their respective futures look less than promising at the current time, any other topical references have been brought up to date in this production by director Margaret Connell which involves a cast of 10 playing some 30 characters.
We first meet Tom (Peter Washington), a Liverpool tour guide who rapidly loses his party who are more interested in football or The Beatles than exploring the rich architectural and historical tapestry that Liverpool offers. The action then switches to his home where we properly meet wife Kath (Jackie Jones) and daughter Susan (Katie King). Domestic brouhaha switches to a local club where Susan and friend Tina (Louise Garcia) meet local boy Darren (Michael Hawkins) and a drug culture to boot before switching back to home as son Ben (James Ledsham) appears. A game of 5-a-side for Tom allows us to meet his friends Clive (Curtis Watt), Macka (Reg Edwards) and Big Frank (James McMartin – who appeared as Macka in the original production). Alternating between these three scenes and their characters paints the scene of modern day Liverpool life and its challenges, although in a way that is more telling than showing, and with a full complement of stereotypical gags that clearly resonate with the audience. I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder but the one about the pizza delivery and the ambulance is well worth looking out for.
An innocent protest march escalates out of control, more for the way in which it is handled by the authorities than anything else, and before you know it Liverpool is declaring itself an independent republic with the Scousers wanting nothing more to do with those English foreigners and we are looking down the barrel of a gun that on any other day could be called Brexit. Our chirpy chappies are becoming a little bit more savvy too as they exploit Liverpool’s show business heritage in a way any politician would be proud of.
The second half opens with Radio Merseyside announcing that the equivalent of martial law has been invoked and whilst the gags continue aplenty, there’s a distinct feeling that events are taking a much darker turn as more and more frequent radio interruptions see the humour of the first half give way to bleakness as law and order gives way to vigilante-style justice and honey-traps for the ‘enemy’ become the norm as our once happy-go-lucky and likeable cast are dragged into depths unimaginable in the first half and the audience rock less from moments of laughter as they are stilled into chilled silences at some very uncomfortable but far too familiar parallels. A moment towards the end between Ben and his newly arrived girlfriend Lisa (Nicola Ferguson) serves well to demonstrate how quickly, severely and sadly societies can break down when we let them or as they say in the play: evil triumphs when good people join in.
There were strong performances from all the cast and I particularly enjoyed Ledsham’s Ben, a role which I thought complemented an earlier performance in the year when he played Sergei in the Lima Syndrome, another Lantern production. The stage layout was ideal with a panoramic silhouette backdrop of Liverpool landmarks and good use of lighting and props to allow simple and effective scene changes. The emphasis of the play is more towards its humour and whilst in the first half there is a tendency to lecture on rather than explore the real issues, in the second half it too often recoiled from its harrowing scenes to the safety of one-liners which is a shame because what unfolds in this play was a reality not that long in Northern Ireland and the more believable because of it. This is a reflection on the writing however rather than this production which was delivered enthusiastically throughout.
It is pleasing to see Lantern Theatre back in action after all the turmoil that they were dragged through this year by the owners and developers of their previous Blundell Street venue. Rather than finding a permanent replacement space they have chosen to focus on staging pop-up, site-specific theatre and judging by tonight’s production the future is looking bright for them. For further details www.lanterntheatre.liverpool.co.uk
The Dome, Grand Central Hall, is an 800-seater venue located at 35 Renshaw Street, right in the heart of Liverpool city centre. It’s domed ceiling, main hall, and auditorium provide a magnificent setting for any production and it is great to see such a wonderful building, dating from the turn of the 20th C and re-opened in 2011, being brought back to life as a performance space as well as invigorating its local community. Further details http://grandcentralhall.co.uk/
Scouse: A Comedy of Terrors plays at the Dome, Grand Central through to 15th December. The show starts at 7.45pm and tickets are available via the telephone box office 0151 703 000 or online http://www.scousetheplay.co.uk/tickets
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 22nd November 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★