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Review – Macca & Beth – Royal Court Liverpool

GERRY Linford originally wrote Macca & Beth in 2019, but for reasons we can all guess it failed to make it to the stage on schedule. He went on to pen the more intimate tale of Ellen & Rigby, with which the Royal Court tentatively welcomed a reduced audience in 2021.

Now, with the theatre back up to full capacity out front, on and back-stage, Macca & Beth has been dusted down and brought to life. Whilst Ellen& Rigby was very much the ‘big hug of a play’ that Linford intended, this is very much more back to the slapstick sitcom that he brought us in The Menlove Avenue Murder Mystery.

First sight of Olivia Du Monceau’s solidly gothic set might give us the idea that the Court’s forthcoming ‘Scousetrap’ has arrived early. With its heavy panelling, cobwebs and a suitably Shakespearian tempest raging outside the window, it reeks of the classic one-set murder mystery, and with its concealed doors and revolving panels it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

This is the ancestral home of the eccentric uncle of David McMaccamac – nowadays understandably styling himself Dave Macca. Macca has brought his partner Beth with him to McMaccamac Hall for a summer break, but it isn’t due to turn into the Midsummer Night’s Dream they have expected.

For a start the snow is coming down (and sideways) by the bucketful and there is a pretext for the visit that Macca hasn’t been entirely candid about. They are really here for the reading of his Uncle Dougal’s will, and among the stipulations are the instructions that he must tell no-one about the will beforehand and must spend the night in the house. It really is a case of ‘what could possibly go wrong?’

Of course Macca & Beth are not alone in this isolated country pile – the family solicitor Ophelia Glass (pun almost certainly intended) is here, as are the whacky housekeeper Morag and her trigger-happy shotgun-wielding husband Angus. Miss Glass comes and goes mysteriously via concealed doors while Morag swigs a single malt and they all try to stop Angus shooting at anything that moves. The separate arrivals of an escaped murderer and the officer who’s trying to catch him – characters who may or may not have switched identities – throw a spanner in the already squeaky works.

Emma Bispham and Danny O’Brien play the titular characters as part of a uniformly well cast ensemble. They have great chemistry, and Bispham’s strong willed domination over the docile O’Brien’s is about as close as we get to their ‘Scottish Play’ counterparts; we really are rooting for them in the end. Andrea Miller and Gordon Kane are a splendid double-act as Morag and Angus, and they bring out the best of the slapstick. Karen Young has hints of Young-Frankenstein’s Frau Blucher about her, and the septet is ably completed by Jerome Ngonadi and Jamie Smelt as the escapee and his nemesis.

In his characteristic manner, Linford pulls all the threads together into a denouement that combines physical and verbal comedy and a heart-warming resolution to a story that owes more to Scooby-Doo than to Agatha Christie. There are times when the play creaks rather than rattles along and occasionally it could handle a foot on the gas, but all in all this is another successful addition to the author’s growing canon of work.

Macca & Beth is at the Royal Court until 28th May, and tickets are available here.

Star rating: 3½ stars

Review by Nigel Smith

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