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Posts Tagged ‘Verity Johnson’

This show came just two years after Lionel Bart’s mega-hit Oliver. Based on a folk ballad about a Liverpool prostitute, featuring unions, dock strikes and political boycotts of cargos of arms destined for misuse in Africa, I’m not sure it had ‘hit’ written all over it. The great British public had other ideas, though, and it ran for 1.5 years, though this is the first professional revival 55 years later. I did see an NYT production 27 years ago, though, in which this theatre’s AD apparently appeared! The Finborough certainly gets my gold star for reviving it at last.

Maggie’s childhood sweetheart Casey decided not to follow in his dad’s unionist footsteps and goes off to be a seaman. When he returns, she’s a professional woman, an empathetic character, and they struggle to rekindle their relationship, as Casey struggles to re-establish himself in the docks. It’s a very working class story, anchored in Liverpool, with a book by local boy Alun Owen. Designer Verity Johnson works wonders conjuring up a dockside setting with some pulleys, steps and crates and I thought it had an authenticity of both location and period, and decent accents.

The story is a bit of a cocktail of ingredients, as is the musical style. If you’re being generous, you might say eclectic; a less positive take would be a bit of a rag-bag, including ballads and knees-ups with snatches of the Mersey sound of the period.  It’s played gamely on solo piano, occasionally breathlessly, by MD Harry Brennan. After a shaky start, Matthew Iliffe’s production gets into its stride with some fine choreography from Sam Spencer-Lane and an enthusiastic ensemble led by Kara Lily Hayworth as Maggie and James Darch as Casey.

It’s amazing the things you find out when you’re reading around a show, on this occasion that Judy Garland, a friend of Bart’s, recorded an EP of four songs from it!

Great to see it staged professionally after all these years. Unmissable for historians and lovers of musical theatre.

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