Thursday, May 23, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Review – Boys from the Blackstuff – Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

IT’S over 40 years since Alan Bleasedale’s Boys from the Blackstuff hit our TV screens, but it feels like yesterday. More to the point, this new stage adaptation by James Graham (which has been a long-time passion project for the Royal Court’s Kevin Fearon) does a miraculous job of capturing the original period while making it feel more timely than ever.

Graham’s script deftly weaves back and forth between the individual stories covered by the separate television episodes, and also manages to take a flashback in time to the Middlesbrough setting of the original ‘Play for Today’. On a wonderfully sculptural chameleon-like set by Amy Jane Cook (brilliantly enhanced by Jamie Jenkin’s video projections) director Kate Wasserberg paces the show to absolute perfection, coaxing glorious performances from a very fine cast.

The TV series was famous for treating its frequently bleak and often tragic range of subject matter with a subtle blend of warmth and wry humour, and Graham and Wasserberg have translated this same feeling to the stage with immense skill.

It is wonderful to see Andrew Schofield back at the Royal Court, playing the sage character of George Malone. Schofield had a minor role in the original series, but here he is one of the lynch-pins of the story. The recreation of ‘George’s Last Ride’ is one of several moments of genuine heartbreak in the play, but George also offers passages of real illumination in the storytelling as well as some gems of comedy.

Similarly multi-faceted is Yosser Hughes, brought to life here in absolute Technicolor by Barry Sloane. Of course his constant pleas of ‘Gizza job’ are humorous at first, but they become a nervous tic that haunts the character as he descends into despair. When we reach his breaking point it is hard to imagine more emotion in a reading of King Lear – this is the sort of showstopping theatrical moment where you can hear a pin drop.

Amongst a host of other fine performances are George Caple’s beautifully cheerful and optimistic Snowy Malone, whose own tragedy is played with immaculate timing and, surprisingly, aerial choreography, and an unexpectedly tear-inducing scene from Nathan McMullen and Lauren O’Neill as Chrissie and Angie Todd.

In stark contrast to the recent touring version of ‘I Daniel Blake’ which visited the city last week, this adaptation of Boys from the Blackstuff never once feels as though it is trying to hammer a message home. It trusts the text, the narrative, and the intelligence of its audience to get its point across. There is certainly an urgency to its appearance in the current economic and political climate, but what shines through more than anything else in this production is a sense of optimism and hope in humanity and an indefatigable spirit of loyalty, solidarity, friendship and family.

Boys from the Blackstuff is presented by Liverpool’s Royal Court in association with Stockroom Productions and continues until 28th October.

Star rating: 5 stars

Review by Nigel Smith

Popular Articles