Friday, June 21, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Review – By the Waters of Liverpool – The Auditorium, M&S Bank Arena Liverpool

MUCH like Helen Forrester’s own story, depicted in the show, it has been a journey fraught with frustration and obstacles getting this production’s national tour underway. Following a premiere at the Empire in 2018, the launch of a tour was held at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion in March 2020. Sadly this was to be short-lived as, less than 2 weeks after its press night, every theatre in the country was closed and we were heading into a national lockdown.

The recent closure of the Epstein Theatre presented another headache for the producers, but they have turned it to their advantage, opening instead on the larger stage of The Auditorium at the M&S Bank Arena, enabling them to use the largest of the multiple versions of the set that will be used during the 14 venue tour.

The tale is not, on the whole, a cheerful one. After the family move to Liverpool from their more comfortable southern home following the stock market crash, Helen is forced to grow up faster than her years hampered by a financially bankrupt father, an emotionally bankrupt mother, and a more glamorous sister who (at least to begin with) cares about no one but herself. Denied even decent clothes to go to job interviews, and unable to further her education, Helen seems destined to spend eternity looking after her younger siblings, but an opportunity afforded by a philanthropic deaconess leads to an employment of sorts that at least gets her out of the house to broaden her horizons, if not her happiness.

As observed in my 2020 review, the play sources its story from across Forrester’s full autobiographical tetralogy, so the story spans a broad time period from the impact of the great depression to the ravages of World War II. In adapting it for the stage Rob Fennah has used a style of ‘story theatre’ writing, combining dramatised scenes with sweeping passages of narration, in which individual characters describe everything from their own physical appearance to the events taking place around them. Whilst at times this can be a little frustrating (especially in the shorter first act) it does allow for a great deal of narrative to pass swiftly and, without it, the story would struggle to fit into a single evening.

Emma Mulligan plays the central figure of Helen, and gives it a good blend of fragility and gravitas. She is the only performer given the luxury of a single part to play, as the remaining 8 players each have a minimum of 4 to 6 named roles plus a host of other incidental parts. Here the self-narrative style complements the costume changes to ensure we know who each actor is playing at any given time.

What is particularly noteworthy about this latest incarnation of the show is that it has much greater clarity in its storytelling than before. Director Gareth Tudor Price has adjusted the pacing of scenes to help bring out the detail at crucial points while pressing ahead with the action in between. Also noticeable is the obvious effort that the cast are making to mine the story for all its potential humour. There is a great deal more vocal and physical comedy, especially apparent in the performances of Joe Owens, Daniel Taylor and Lynn Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, Tom Roberts has some of the most solid delivery, with no hint of over-projection (a slight problem with some of the players who seem to almost forget they have the benefit of microphones). Another very welcome addition to the cast is Joe Gill, who puts in some fine turns, in particular as a dubious cockney spiv and later as the gentlemanly airman who becomes Helen’s much needed love interest. Top marks however go to the splendidly versatile Samantha Alton, who plays a range of characters from Helen’s troublesome sister to their battleaxe of an aunt, as well as the less than helpful Miss Finch who makes Helen’s first foray into the workplace a nightmare.

The shape of the show is unusual, being longer in the second act than in the first, but while Act I feels a little heavy-footed at times as it sets out the story, Act II is a great deal more fluid and, in many ways, upbeat, despite the onset of war, which is heralded with the bang that takes us into the interval. There will be many who have memories of times and events similar to those chronicled in this story, either personally or passed down from family, and this, along with the power of a genuine life story being told, gives the show an immediacy and relatable quality that both recalls the past and puts the present into context.

By the Waters of Liverpool played 4 performances at The Auditorium and now embarks on a tour which begins at Port Sunlight’s Gladstone Theatre from 12th to 14th September and the remaining 12 venues include Merseyside visits at St Helens’ Theatre Royal, The Atkinson in Southport and the Floral Pavilion New Brighton, all three during October.

Star rating: 4 stars

Review by Nigel Smith

Popular Articles