Thursday, July 18

Boys From the Blackstuff – Liverpool’s Royal Court

After its sell out run last Autumn and news of a transfer to the National Theatre, this production remains keenly awaited. The industrial, bare-boned set frames a strong start. Punchy, witty and clear are the performances, with a sense of foreboding about what’s to come.

That ever-present feeling of foreboding is what keeps this play alive. Other than the everyday feel, the unassuming personalities on stage and the important subject matter, this play survives, just, on likeability of characters. As someone not originally from Liverpool, especially not in the mid-80s, I fear that presenting to a non-scouse audience, this production would not hit emotional beats as strongly when those watching do not necessarily understand the realities of this quintessentially scouse story of struggle.

Nevertheless, these characters are likeable. Yosser (Barry Sloane), in particular. Sloane’s performance was earthy, gutsy and unpredictable enough to warrant the audience’s empathy for his heart-breaking character. Whenever he entered, there was a greater sense of conflict onstage, for all of the previous character work he did. A needed conflict at points. For other performances were quality, Chrissie’s (Nathan McMullen) and George’s (Philip Whitchurch) as good examples, but at times these was overshadowed by the similarities of scenes for their one-level tension.

Photo: Andrew AB Photography

That creates an unfortunate nature of predictability at times in this production. From Act 1 to Act 2, there is little change in pace or tone. Though, thankfully, this is broken up by the emotive use of physical theatre and the candid conversations had between these men.

I’m awarding this production for its relevance to our time. Other than bringing back a classic 80s show to life, this is a story with direct correlation to the Cost of Living crisis and the common discourse of financial struggle and its impact on personal lives. That is how the emotional capacity of this production is met and why we are invested in whether these men find a way out. Yet, they don’t, at least not all of them, and it is that bum note on which this play ends that I was disappointed with.

After a full-length production (2.5 hrs!), these characters remain in the same situation as the beginning. I understand the message behind that, the sluggish feel and continuing despair, yet I wanted more. The 80s is over and we know it gets better, therefore a slither of positivity could have been delivered.

Playing until 11th May,

Reviewer: Hannah Esnouf

Reviewed: 24th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.