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Review: The Comeback Special at Hope Street Theatre Liverpool

By Nigel Smith

FOLLOWING the success of Venus Rising back in June, Hope Street Theatre this week welcomed another revival of Ian Salmon’s work. His award winning comedy The Comeback Special is directed by Mikee Dickinson, who earlier this year brought us Salmon’s Those Two Weeks at Unity Theatre.

Dickinson has a flair for balancing the light and dark aspects of a text and this complex, multi-layered piece of writing really plays to this strength.

Karl might suspect that the fact that his mate Robbie keeps talking to the invisible presence of Elvis is down to something they’ve been smoking, but Robbie knows otherwise. While there’s always been some debate over the reality of Elvis’s demise, the slightly cut price version of Elvis who Robbie is talking to is very decidedly deceased.

When his friends realise that Robbie really does talk to dead people, he is catapulted into a successful media-driven career, but along the way he loses sight of the importance of what his gift can do if used wisely. It takes the intervention of the ever-present Elvis, and another rather more personal and poignant visitation, to bring him to his Damascus moment and lead him back onto the right track.

The central performances from Callum Downes, Tom Highton and Ian Avery as Robbie, Karl and ‘Elvis’ are tightly honed. They navigate their way through the rapid-fire comic dialogue with admirable skill, making the sudden twists and turns into the serious drama all the more deeply felt. The supporting cast, who slip in and out of the narrative in what are almost a series of cameos, all judge their place in the story well. Liam Powell-Berry and Callum Forbes bring a similar manic energy to their parts as they did in Mikee Dickinson’s recent Bob The Russian, whilst Jackie Jones brings a sense of ethereal magic to her pivotal appearance toward the close of the play.

Hope Street Theatre’s performance space is used in an end-on configuration, with a simple and busily dressed set design from Sophie Jones-Davies perfectly conjuring the atmosphere of Robbie and Karl’s haphazard lifestyle.

As we have come to expect, there’s not a word out of place in Ian Salmon’s excellent dialogue, and he again shows his very individual way of telling an important story whist keeping the action lively and light-hearted. Whether it’s the uproarious comedy, the sharp tongued text or the story’s heartfelt spirituality, there’s something to please everyone in The Comeback Special.

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