Both drama and music were on the bill at Melrose Hall, Hoylake tonight, Friday 25th November. Presented by the multi-talented Calli Hughes, this was a showcase of first, her directing talent and then her well-known talent as a local singer. The first half of the evening gave us an award-winning drama and in the second half Calli was joined by her equally talented husband Mark for a ‘Songbirds’ session – the music of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.
Melrose Hall is a bijou venue seating around 80-100 in the heart of the Hoylake community. On this occasion it was set cabaret style and the audience could bring their own drinks.
The first Act, a three-hander ‘Effie’s Burning’ originally directed by Calli for the Leverhulme Drama Festival last year. This powerful drama was written as a two-hander by Valerie Windsor. As Apartment 34’s entry last year, the play won best play and best actress for Sue Elliot in the role of Effie. The team went on to represent the northwest at the Northern Final last year in Saltburn, as part of the All England Theatre Festival. We were treated, once again, to a high-quality production with excellent performances from Sue as mentioned, Kirsten Worthington as the caring Dr Kovacs and Phil Murray as Jessop-Brown the consultant surgeon. Having seen it last year on a large stage, this for me was a very different experience. It was of course more difficult to get movement and shape, but they tried to be creative with entrances through the audience. In its favour, the powerful delivery of the words really hit home in this intimate setting.
It is the terrible story of a young girl forced into care at thirteen and labelled as ‘morally deficient’. She had been abused as a child but had found some comfort and safety in her first institution. Then, moved into care in the community which meant she was isolated and confused. Now as a woman in her sixties, she has set fire to the home and is now in hospital recovering. No one really cares apart from one doctor. Ruth Kovacs wants to be a surgeon but is looked down upon by her condescending superior Jessop-Brown, who ridicules her in front of the other junior doctors. Her genuine interest in Effie not only helps her patient but gives her strength to be the doctor she wants to be. Both Elliot and Worthington give memorable performances with emotion and dramatic skill, ably assisted by Murray as the arrogant and sneering Surgeon.
There was an excellent atmospheric soundtrack, and I particularly thought the ‘fire scene’ worked effectively, especially considering the limited resources. We are left with the terrible truth that Effie isn’t her real name, her father called her ‘that effing child’ and the play speaks volumes about how the care system failed her and those like her. A privilege to see this once again and much appreciated by the audience, many of whom hadn’t seen it before.
The second half couldn’t be more different. Calli and Mark (without their band) still rocked the house down with some familiar Fleetwood Mac songs. Calli’s voice is particularly suited to Stevie Nicks who she emulates so well in tone and talent. Mainly from the Nick’s catalogue with a few McVie songs, the selection went down well with this audience. Mark’s effortless, exceptional talent as a guitarist has partnered Calli for many years and their harmonies and deliveries were spot on with favourites like Dreams, Songbird, landslide, Rhiannon and Don’t stop…the list went on…
My one reservation – there were fifteen songs many of them running over five minutes and had this been a full concert with the band that would have worked but I felt for this particular evening a slightly shorter or edited set list would have sat better, although there were clearly a few avid fans at the front who could have taken more.
As a concept, having drama and rock on the same bill I’m not sure would work in the future – both brilliant in themselves but an evening of two one-act plays and a full evening of music would work better. That said this was a ‘try out’, a showcase and there is no getting away from the talent that both halves of the evening presented as well as supporting the Claire House charity.
Reviewer: Bev Clark
Reviewed: 25th November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★