Wednesday, December 6

Boss New Plays (Saturday) – Royal Court Studio

Liverpool Lanterns’ annual showcase of up-and-coming writing and acting talent in Merseyside came to a close with five new pieces from some of Lanterns’ veteran writers.

As these are short pieces and in varying stages of development, it’s unfair to ‘rate’ them but there is still plenty for us to get our teeth into as an audience.

There’s no easing into tonight’s showcase with our first piece, Banter, written by Darren Anglesea. The moment the lights go down there is an explosion of swearing and scuffling, as we are introduced to Tony, an angry young man accused of assault, which he swears is just ‘banter’ that got out of hand. When he sees that his duty solicitor Martin is black, he makes it plain this is an issue and it’s up to Martin to help his client understand how much trouble he is in, under the shadow of Tony’s racist attitudes.

The setting is an interesting one within which to explore the issue of race relations and Anglesea has created two authentic and engaging characters that work well as polar opposites; Tony, a spiky ball of cocky fury (played by an excellent Scott Lewis) and Martin (David Loy), softly spoken and considered.

There’s a lot to cram into a scene of this duration and, with the focus on Martin sharing his experience (and exhaustion) challenging racism and white privilege, it’s one of slightly uneven pacing and balance – it would be interesting to see more into what makes Tony really tick and provide a genuine challenging of entrenched attitudes. Martin’s monologues can also lapse into monotone on occasion, diminishing their potency. But there’s certainly plenty of scope to build this solid piece into a highly persuasive, character focused play, at a very timely moment in our culture.

The second play, Sweet Sixteen, by Irene Stuart is a show of two parts. We start as guests at Georgie’s 16th birthday party, with all the dad dancing and tipsy reminiscing that goes on. Proud dad Joe (Darren Partington) is given scope in the script to interact with the audience, which he does with aplomb, as we are introduced to the characters, and it is as light-hearted and amusing start.

The fourth wall then comes crashing back down as, with the subtlety of a bucket of water to the face, we are thrust into an awful family revelation, with Georgie and mum Karen reeling from the consequences.

The subject matter – historical sexual abuse – is addressed with fine skill. Stuart has woven dialogue that is raw and emotive, giving Lisa Worth as Karen plenty to get her teeth into, and she does this to superb effect. Stuart doesn’t let up in piling on the fallout from Karen’s discovery leading to a terrible, tragic conclusion, packing in more drama than an Eastenders Christmas special. It’s a tough watch after the froth of the birthday party.

There are some curious red herrings though and it’s not clear if they are deliberate or not. The true nature of godfather Lenny’s relationship with Karen and Georgie is hinted at via a slip of the tongue at the start of the play but not taken anywhere (and his subsequent role in proceedings far overshadows this).

There is also a sequence with a spurned boyfriend and recurring references to Georgie’s passion for acting that sets up the potential for a different and much darker turn of events as revenge gone wrong rather than the more straight forward, albeit bleak, conclusion we do reach, one that could be interesting to explore in terms of a theatrical piece. But overall a powerful and hard-hitting play, that draws a few gasps from the audience, particularly thanks to Worth’s performance.

After the interval, third play, Friendship Never Ends, by Steph Niciu, looks at the dynamic of a toxic friendship. We meet Daisy and Anabelle in a bar and, having discovered they are linked by a mutual acquaintance, Charlotte, they soon bond over a few cocktails. Charlotte’s displeasure at being ‘usurped’ soon spills out via spiteful and bullying comments towards Daisy, attempting to exclude her from other social activities.

The script is witty in places but very much geared towards a generation comfortable with who the artists and social media influences of the day are, making for a superficial and over-simplified exploration of the themes of jealousy and fitting in, that may not be easy for everyone to relate to.

Again, it’s another piece where further delving into the characters and the dynamic could develop into something far more interesting, giving our three actresses more to work with, and giving the audience more to reflect on in terms of what self-worth and genuine friendship means to them.

Play four, The lb Sterling, by Jamie McLoughlin, has a similar line of the need to ‘keep up appearances’ albeit in a very different, fantastical setting. We are into the 2060s and Digsby and Cheen are desperate to move to a better area to improve their prospects, but they must convince the government inspector that they are worthy to do so, including by meeting a weight limit cut-off. Just how far will they go to meet it?

McLoughlin takes advantage of his futuristic setting to ladle in lots of comical references to things from popular culture (Digsby – played with a charming, everyman quality by James Seamus Bray – talking about the Argos catalogue in the same reverent tones as a Bible gets a big laugh).

It’s a well-written, enjoyable piece, with plenty of physical comedy added in, and still manages to sprinkle in food for thought by giving us one potential (and horrifyingly plausible) glimpse of where our society could go with our current consumption of natural resources and the shallow, societal values we may have to adhere to at the expense of true happiness. 

Our final piece is the strongest and funniest. The Iron Men, from the pen of Joe Lewis, is a hilarious and whimsical view of a day in the life of the statues that stand on Crosby Beach, as part of Anthony Gormley’s Another Place installation.

Brilliant in its sheer simplicity, we meet veteran statues Frank (Mike Sanders) and Ray (John Purcell) as they show newcomer Mick (PJ Murray) the ropes and enjoy the ensuing comedy as Mick has to face the reality of the job; the multiple indignities of incoming tides, needing the loo and unwelcome attention from dogs.

To say that all three are statues concreted into the sands, director Donna M Day has taken full advantage of Lewis’ script to wring out the physical comedy, particularly a sequence involving passing the time with a spot of Tai Chi.

For an audience outside of Merseyside, they may not get the humour of the statues’ ignominy of having to constantly stare at the shores of Birkenhead, or the other local references added in. And this isn’t a script aiming to challenge any great truths or start debates (except perhaps over the virtues of certain footballers).

But it is pure fun, clever and laugh-out-loud funny, aided by note-perfect comic timing from its three performers and is a very welcome closer for the night and the showcase as a whole.

After tonight’s entries, the bar for future submissions has certainly been set very high.

The five pieces of the evening don’t qualify for a star rating at present, due to their short length, but I know North West End UK will be eagerly anticipating the full-length performances in future.

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 6th November 2021