Book, Music & Lyrics: Willy Russell
Directors: Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: Kathryn M. Bartlett
The Public Reviews Rating:
From the moment you are greeted with a simplistic dark stage, punctuated with minimal beams of red light, your mind is focussed and alert, ready to absorb every drop of this masterpiece.
The stage gradually becomes more illuminated, and reveals a run-down 1960′s working-class residential urban neighbourhood set against Merseyside’s twinkling city skyline featuring the famous Royal Liver Building clock towers. Don’t be fooled by this alluring backdrop, there are dark undercurrents afoot.
The story is about the lives of twin boys, who for reasons that become apparent, grow up within separate households and social class. It questions at various stages whose life is better, and addresses in depth the grass is always greener idiom; covering their lives and loves before ultimately, tragedy strikes.
The show is a compelling watch from the start. Not so much a musical in the traditional sense as perhaps one would expect, but more an exquisite dramatic theatrical piece that has happens to have musical numbers within it. The gripping opening scene featuring two corpses sparks intrigue, conveys a sense of stark gravity and has you on the edge-of-your seat from the off. As Niki Evans, the emotionally wrought twins’ mother Mrs Johnstone, utters the first line of Tell Me It’s Not True; already the profound atmosphere is tangible and audience members’ emotions are running high.
Evans continues in excellent convincing form throughout the show as the often optimistic, yet long-suffering superstitious Liverpudlian matriarch on hard-times. She is strong, melodic and accurate in her performance. One of the main, recurring songs that Evans sings is the catchy Marilyn Monroe. This number takes on many guises and is Mrs Johnstone’s vocal narrative to many scenes, whether joyful and comedic, poignant, or matter-of-fact.
Tracy Spencer and Tim Churchill are well cast as the upper-class desperately childless Lyons couple, who bring up twin, Eddie.
The whole company take on many roles throughout, and are adept and highly skilled in morphing into many diverse characters, from many walks of life, of various ages.
In particular Sean Jones and Jorden Bird as the two separated brothers and best friends Mickey and Eddie; and Olivia Sloyan, as their mutual friend/love-interest Linda; excel in portraying endearing turbulent characters that begin onstage as innocent 7-year-olds who know no measure of social boundaries or presumed/assumed class distinction; transitioning seamlessly to gawky love-struck teenagers of fourteen; through to fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen year-olds; then grown-up, worlds-apart, life-experienced, mid to late twenty-somethings.
Marti Pellow is thoroughly astounding as the commanding, suave, omnipresent Narrator. As the devil on the shoulder of the two maternal guardians of the twin boys, he is as louring as the onstage North-Western sky, and is wonderfully imposing and hypnotic even when his character is taking a more subtle approach. His foreboding timely reprises of Shoes Upon the Table and punchy rhythmic rhyming monologues about the onstage web of deceit are exciting and executed with engrossing elocution. Throughout, Pellow’s mesmerising vocals are clear, strong, multi-faceted and electrifying.
Duets between Marti Pellow and Niki Evans are harmonised perfectly and sound like a thousand voices in perfect synchronisation, such is the artistic melding yet power and depth of their voices.
Powerful, apt orchestration and superb lighting sets each scene impeccably, and add essential dynamic to the dramatic effect.
Although plot, music and execution are standalone, truly notable, and of distinction; it is the immense overwhelming rush of emotions and feelings that one experiences both during and after the show that is ingrained in your soul and whole psyche, that supersedes each individual theatrical element and is embedded in you overall.
The final scene and full rendition of the infamous and beautiful Tell Me It’s Not True by Mrs Johnstone and the full company, is stunning, gut-wrenching perfection. Not only the audience, but also the cast had tears in their eyes at the end of this outstanding show.
Sometimes the word awesome is overused. In this case, it is not.