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Review – A Greasy Spoon – Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

IT’S always good to see the Royal Court mixing things up a little by presenting work from different authors and by putting together casts that include a blend of familiar and unfamiliar faces. A Greasy Spoon is Alice Bunker-Whitney’s writing debut for the Court, and it began life when she was taking part in the Everyman Playhouse playwright’s programme. Developed here into a full length two act play, it clearly makes a strong effort at blending Bunker-Whitney’s voice with the Royal Court’s house style of comedy – something that it achieves with a mixed degree of success.

The premise is straightforward enough: Mandy and Shannon, co-workers at the popular greasy spoon caff Scrantastic, have murdered their boss (as you do) and somehow they have to find a way to dispose of the body. You’d think that a closed sign on the door would give them some breathing space, but a long line of persistent customers and deliveries keep stopping them in their bloodstained tracks.

It is the stuff of classic theatrical farce, and relies very heavily on a sequence of set pieces of physical comedy that build one on top of another, demanding great timing from the cast. Fortunately they rise to the occasion with splendid precision, ensuring that every sight-gag lands squarely where it is intended. Lindzi Germain and Hayley Sheen as Mandy and Shannon are a great double-act, with their familiarity from previous shows paying off in their obvious rapport. They are joined on stage for most of the show’s 2 hours by Anthony Gough, who plays a visually impaired badge seller, and whose constant presence in the room as a corpse is wielded about makes for some of the cleverest and most thought-provoking dialogue. Jay Johnson provides some real jeopardy for the fraught Mandy and Shannon, as a neurotic builder who walks in on the scene with an axe to grind with The Boss. Johnson makes maximum mileage of the physicality of his role, and it’s hard not to be put in mind of Royal Court veteran Andrew Schofield when looking at the way he uses almost motionless facial and bodily gestures. He is comedy gold.

Meanwhile Adam McCoy is given a string of characterisations to pull off, from a persistent customer who is so desperate for his skinny latte that he’s prepared to drink it through the letterbox with a straw, to the police officer who finally arrives on the increasingly slapstick scene. In some cases McCoy has to deliver his lines through a window, and there are times where he seems almost to bi-locate on the stage, being shoved into a cupboard one moment only to reappear in a different costume moments later on another part of the stage. It’s a feat of physicality to be sure, but his vocal work in giving life to all his characters is priceless.

Most actors’ greatest fear is corpsing on stage, but Ben Philips is more or less obliged to endure it nightly, as he literally embodies the lifeless Boss who appears dead on cue from the moment the curtain rises. Despite his understandable lack of dialogue he plays a great part, and the show simply would not be a fraction as funny if a live actor weren’t used for this.

All this plays out in designer Alfie Heywood’s splendidly detailed caff, which has enough doors, windows, cupboards and other hiding places to more than satisfy the needs of the one-set farce. Francesca Goodridge directs with swift precision, keeping everything motoring along so that the time flies by but, despite all the combined efforts onstage, the frenetic comedy fails to translate into the sort of laughter you might expect. In some ways the piece may have hit its target more squarely if it had aimed a little further away from the familiar Court style rather than trying to emulate it. As it is it’s a play that knows what it wants to say but is struggling to find its voice, and it appears to leave parts of the audience rather nonplussed, although certainly not for want of trying.

Star rating: 3½ stars

Review by Nigel Smith

Greasy Spoon runs until Saturday 26th August 2023.

Tickets start at £15 and stalls tickets are available with a meal (served at your table before the show) for an extra £14. The show is recommended for ages 16+.

Tickets are available online at www.liverpoolsroyalcourt.com or you can ring the box office on 0151 709 4321

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