Jonathan Harvey’s comic drama about a messed-up family resumes from whence it was paused in March 2020, albeit it with some cast changes, with a welcome return to Liverpool’s Everyman.
Sylvie’s (Josie Lawrence) life is unravelling as she is forced to emerge from the safety of her Blundellsands cocoon where she has inhabited a fantasy world that never was, and where wiser, older sister Garnet (Joanne Howarth) is now becoming weary of the shopping lists and tired love. This time though, the family’s in town as Sylvie’s boys, ‘brothers’ Mickey-Joe (Mickey Jones) and Lee Lee (Nathan McMullen), return with their respective partners Frankie (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) and Alyssa (Gemma Brodrick) to celebrate Garnet’s birthday. But for once she’s got a story of her own to tell: who’s going to fan the flames or will they merely be blown out in a storm…
Harvey is an accomplished and award-winning writer, with this piece written for the Everyman, and whilst there is a powerful storyline, it does somewhat get lost in the all too numerous plays to the audience – which must be noted was a very loyal and responsive one – which were more reminiscent of Gimme Gimme Gimme to the extent that they upset the moments of real poignancy that were present throughout, and was probably best summed up by the special effects ending that lacked the humility and reserve that would perhaps have been more appropriate: amidst the often raucous laughter I did spot one audience member crying so it wasn’t just me.
With director Nick Bagnall being overly faithful to the script, the biggest challenge became fitting Liverpool meets Pride meets comedy meets kitchen sink drama into one pot and whilst the ingredients worked in their own respective ways, the overall mix jarred and often detracted from the believability of the piece.
Whilst this was written for the Everyman, I’m not convinced the thrust stage auditorium was able to do it justice. The stage is too small for what is a busy production and there was too much blocking and backs to the audience as a result. Perhaps its natural home lies at Liverpool’s Royal Court where its topical gags and local references would go down a storm although many of them were oft repeated and sometimes explained which is a shame because there were a lot of cracking one-liners strewn about that were well delivered by the cast and of which any writer would be deservedly proud.
Whilst all-round performances were good, the cast too often succumbed to crowd-pleasing stereotypes. Funny? Yes but it does wear a little thin. Amoo-Gottfried and Howarth had characters with greater depth, and both gave strong performances.
It’s unusual to review on an opening night – albeit second time round – and whilst three of the original cast have been retained, the other three are new. An opening half of one hour and twenty minutes was too long and on the night we overrun the reported show time by half an hour. I would expect that to naturally tighten up over the coming days.
This is an important production as it weaves together the uncomfortable topics of sexual assault, dementia, drugs, and suicide. Don’t let the potential unpalatability of these put you off; you will spend a lot of the evening being well entertained and laughing out loud. But perhaps afterwards, like me, you will wonder whether you missed something, or merely that something was missed.
Our Lady of Blundellsands plays at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre through to 9th October with tickets priced £10 – £35. Further details and to book https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/our-lady-of-blundellsands
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 17th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★