Amidst a global pandemic we laugh about death in these four darkly comic monologues.
On an unseasonably warm September evening Liverpool Theatre Festival hosted this performance written by Emma Culshaw and David Paul in St Luke’s Church, the socially distanced venue for the festival, which is an iconic roofless, bombed out church building which has become a centre for arts and performance. There was a cautious audience keen to welcome back live theatre, the stage was sparse with wooden boxes and very little in the way of costume, lighting or audio effects, so it was the ability of the actors that was to keep the audience enthralled.
First up was Thomas Galashan as a guilt-ridden ex-soldier revisiting the site of a war time tragedy. Telling his tale whilst swigging from a hip flask and smoking anxiously Galashan brought tension and regret to this story. As a lustful young squaddie in Liverpool during the blitz of May 1941 he had an amorous assignation with a married woman her met in a bar. However, their tryst was interrupted and exposed when their temporary nookie-nest suffered a direct hit in the bombing.
The lady’s husband let loose violent fury on his wife and the shame-faced but gallant soldier killed the man whilst trying to save her. The guilty lovers then carried and dumped the body in a nearby burning church, St Luke’s the venue for tonight’s performance. The woman reported to the authorities that her husband had died a hero attempting to rescue people from the burning church.
Ten years later the culpable and remorseful soldier returns to the scene of the tragedy to scowl, with grief and shame for the only man he killed during the war. Galashan brought great intensity and conviction to this role which was dark and twisted.
By contrast Samantha Alton plays happy-go-lucky Scouse girl Jade, who receives five wrapped gifts from a recently dead Gay Best Friend. The gifts symbolise stages of their friendship from primary school when they first met, teenage drinking, Pride wings to mark his early ‘coming out’ and talent show wigs from their days of having an Atomic Kitten tribute act (Nuclear Pussy).
The friends parted when life took them in different directions; he, spending ten years in Tenerife as a holiday entertainer and party animal, and she, working as a Nanny in the States.
Jade’s guilt stems from believing his concealment of the seriousness of his cancer. When she flew home her friend was all but dead and it is the final gift which concludes this tale so poignantly. He leaves her a bunch of pink roses as a metaphor for how temporary life is but also how beautiful it can be.
Alton is wonderful in portraying Jade’s transition from brash, good-time girl to emotional mess full sorrow and grief.
James Templeton’s timing, intonation and delivery is outstanding as Oscar, a ‘luvvie’ actor complete with flamboyant scarf and wide-brimmed hat. He is attending the grave of a friend and theatre critic (Harvey) who has given him a bad review describing a recent performance as ‘lolloping like a rubber chicken’.
To take revenge on his ‘friend’, Oscar bakes him a cake knowing he has a nut allergy but misleading his friend to the contrary. Oscar expected his friend to simply suffer with hives, but the unfortunate critic died (let this be a lesson). The punchline to this romp is when Oscar’s agent rings him with a rare offer of work to host a tribute show to his late friend who he has inadvertently murdered.
Finally, Crissy Rock took to the stage dancing and dusting like everyone’s favourite grandma. She is the regretful twin sister to Margie who has passed on having kept a spotless home and high standards during their many years of sibling rivalry.
Our protagonist has always lived in the shadow of her twin and felt herself inferior but when reaching their sixties Margie decided to start meeting men as she and her husband were parting. At about the same time Rock’s character starts practicing the Laws of Attraction by building a vision board of a big red Mercedes which she desires.
Unfortunately, the universe may have confused the twins as Margie is killed by a red Mercedes on her way to a date and the surviving twin is left with guilt. However, nothing stops our survivor who overcomes her grief to organise foreign travel and a new man.
Rock is so understated and natural in this and her performance is entirely convincing. These monologues demonstrate the power of theatre to blend comedy and tragedy with the excitement of live performance.
Liverpool Theatre Festival continues at the Bombed Out Church until Saturday. For performance and tickets visit https://tinyurl.com/y3husxj7
Reviewer: Bob Towers
Reviewed: 14th September 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★