Thursday, February 29

Stowaway – Liverpool Irish Festival

Liverpool Irish Festival was established to provide a permanent, annual event to celebrate the Irish contribution to Liverpool’s cultural identity and heritage, regularly providing a rich array of arts, literature, film, music, and drama. The current pandemic has provided a new challenge for the Festival to overcome with normally staged performances now transferred to Zoom and Barbara Marsh’s fifth play is no exception to the rule, with the romantic drama – written in response to a Scriptshop theme of ‘leaving’ – put together as a scratch reading under the direction of Zara Marie Brown.

Ted (Steve Dean) works as a steward on a passenger ship with Paddy (Daryl Holden), and is bringing pregnant wife Annie (Mairi-Claire Kennedy) and teenage son Jimmy (Lew Freeburn) on the next sailing as a permanent move to New York from Liverpool. Also travelling with them is Annie’s orphaned niece, Kathleen (Claire Bryan), a wannabe singer, but since they cannot afford to buy her a ticket, she is being hidden aboard. Will she survive the five-week journey stowed away or will the opportunity of love with Paddy amid interest from a well-to-do passenger, Sir Clive Cushing (John Smith), get in the way of her dreams coming true?

The piece was well read by the cast with good accents from Bryan and Holden reinforcing the Irish background of their characters.  However, since this was a scratch reading, the emphasis of this review is on the writing, the theme of which resonates strongly with me as two of my grandparents – growing up only a few miles apart in Ireland – separately emigrated to America where they were to meet and fall in love before returning to Ireland to live and have a family.

The main advice to writers is to show and not tell and the good fortune of playwriting is having a cast of characters to do this for you. Unfortunately this was not the case here as from the off we are presented with an array of ‘facts’ from the price of a ticket – in both dollars and pounds – to an elongated family history, which was a shame because the characters should be sufficiently defined to do this and their dialogue should unfold the plot. The ending was akin to a monologue but one that bombarded us with more unnecessary facts and lost the heartfelt emotion that the scene demanded and deserved.

A key aspect of historical writing is to ensure any facts are correct otherwise the integrity of the piece is easily undermined, so the early rendition of a song referring to an Irish rebel who was actually executed almost ten years after the setting of the play – the date of which had already been strongly iterated – was disappointing, especially when research had clearly been done in selecting other songs befitting the time.

Equally dialogue needs to be of the period and consistent in its tone yet this often felt hackneyed with too much ‘so he did’, ‘so I did’, and ‘I don’t know at all, at all’ for the Irish characters, and ‘dontchaknows’ for the upper-class Sir Clive who I’m not convinced would have been comfortable referring to things as ‘dodgy’ either.

Some early scenes were too short in length and whilst not an issue for a scratch reading, would guarantee a disruptive performance in staging and should be strongly reconsidered. Whilst I am confident a director would address this it is also important that a writer gives some consideration as to how their work will be performed.

There is a good idea here – I hope Marsh and Brown collectively can tease it out for performance.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 24th October 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★