Sunday, February 25

The Show Must Go On – St Luke’s Bombed Out Church

Mark Chatterton and Sarah Nixon, writers of the infamous Rock-n-Roll panto at the Liverpool Everyman, staged every year, have adapted to the COVID pandemic by writing this new theatre show.  The production is a specially scaled down version of a full musical the husband-and-wife team were working on with composer and musician Ben Beer when the pandemic struck.  Because theatres are not currently allowed to open, it is being staged outdoors at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, in the heart of Liverpool.

Luckily for the audience, it had been a surprisingly warm, sunny day, after a few previous days of torrential rain and gusty winds.  But, at the start of the performance the sky was still blue and the late evening sun was edging its way into the makeshift amphitheatre, through the blown-out windows and blown-off roof of the church.  Chairs were socially distanced and there was an element of expectation in the audience who were mostly wearing thick, padded jackets, woollen hats and gloves, and boots. Some, who had had the foresight to bring along thick woollen blankets, threw them over themselves, from neck to feet, as the evening progressed. Thick woollen scarves were around the necks of most and I had mine over my nose and ears as the weather turned cold.

The staging was minimal, in fact bare, unembellished except for some coloured bunting hanging from the white backdrops, and there was a canopy covering the stage in case of inclement weather, to protect the actors. The show features five actors playing an assortment of different roles, including Everyman theatre’s panto regulars, Adam Keast, Steph Hockley and Danny Burns.

 The show is hailed as a joyful, new, swashbuckling stage spectacular.  It is a twist on the historical adventure novel written in 1844 by French author, Alexandre Dumas of ‘The Three Musketeer’s’; a tale written in the swashbuckler genre, which features heroic, chivalrous swordsmen, best friends who fight for justice. The twist here is that there are actually four Musketeers’, not three; the fourth, D’Artagnan, becoming a Musketeer three-quarters of the way into the novel.

The twist in this production is that D’Artagnan was called D’ArtOnion and the Musketeer’s catchphrase is “All for one and three for two” instead of the original, “All for one and one for all” everyone recognises from the Dumas novel.

The script relied heavily on innuendo and risqué one-liners of the sort brought to prominence in the ‘Carry On’ British comedy media film franchise.  Some of the actors’ characters were dependant on a degree of ‘campness’ and delivery of ‘suggestive’ jokes and quick-fire gags.

An array of over-the-top wigs and period costumes are utilised to aid the multi-assortment of roles undertaken by the actors who are the linchpins in this creation and the cornerstones to its success.  There are no elaborate sets incorporated, nor any special effects which are usually featured in the Everyman’s pantomimes.  It was heavily reliant on the script and the actors’ performances.

The actors played their parts well, their enthusiasm and delivery are to be commended but the humour in the script was not as well-received as I had imagined it would be.  I detected some chuckles from the audience but not the huge guffaws and raucous, tear-jerking laughter I have experienced when attending the Everyman well-received Rock-n-Roll pantos. 

The show is publicised as a ‘Rocked Up Comedy Musical’ but I didn’t identify delivery of any rock music; most of it consisted of ballads; there was certainly nothing which got my toes tapping. The Everyman’s pantomimes climax in the audience being on their feet, singing and bopping away to the music, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case last night.

As a venue, St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, is stunning.   It has a natural proscenium arch and it creates its own theatrical space but for me the atmosphere of the auditorium in a theatre was missing and additionally the seating, being socially distanced and the cold weather didn’t help.  I didn’t feel the anticipation of the audience one feels in the theatre when a production, which the paying audience has been looking forward to seeing, is about to start, nor did I feel the camaraderie one feels at the end of a show when the combined enjoyment can be felt and is shared by the people who have been watching.

Sadly the Arts sector has taken one of the greatest hits due to the Covid pandemic and with little funding available writers Sarah and Mark, have turned to their industry contacts for support.  They have been overwhelmed by the help and support they have received from other people in the industry, including the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse theatres helping with funding.

TV show actors from ‘Coronation Street,’ ‘Emmerdale’,  Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Casualty’ such as Wendi Peters, Siobhan Finneran, Tony Gardner, Sally Ann Mathews and Jane Hazelgrove have donated to get the show off of the ground.

Additionally, ‘Acting 4 Others’ is endorsing ‘The Show Must Go On!’ across social media and in return, their merchandise is being sold at the Bombed Out Church and will be throughout the duration of the show’s performances.

The team has also launched a ‘Go Fund Me’ appeal to raise £25,000 to help put on the show.  Donations will go towards covering the wages of the actors, creative and technical teams, and paying for venue hire, licensing of music and rehearsal costs.

The production team also includes Lucy Thatcher as choreographer and Ben Beer as musical director.

The show is on until 30th May 2021.

Reviewer: Anne Pritchard

Reviewed: 23rd May 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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