Adapted by Rob Fennah from Helen Forrester’s million-selling book and directed by Gareth Tudor Price, Twopence To Cross The Mersey is a period drama set in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression.
Helen’s (Jenny Murphy) spendthrift father (Mark Moraghan) has been declared bankrupt forcing the family to leave behind the nannies, servants, and beautiful middle-class home in the south of England. With little more than the clothes they stand up in, the family take the train to Liverpool where they hope to rebuild their shattered lives, although mother (Lynn Francis) is plagued by other doubts, but it is not the wealthy port that used to exist as the city too has changed and fallen on harder times.
With the parents looking for work, Helen is taken out of school to look after her siblings, and with the burden of keeping house falling on her young shoulders, she is forced to rely on meagre handouts from the local parish, charity organisations, and the kindness of strangers. But It is a chance meeting with an Old Gentleman (Daniel Taylor) that opens up Helen’s heart and mind to pursuing something more, something better, with her life.
With the exception of Murphy, the cast play multiple roles in which they are supported by further cast members including Roy Carruthers, Lynne Fitzgerald, Parry Glasspool, Rob Hudson, and Chloe McDonald.
Whilst based on true events, this adaptation was far too unsure of whether to be the drama the story demands it to be, or a comedy given the many mostly unnecessary comic interludes. Yes, a tragic story needs releases from its tension and there were natural moments in which to do that, such as the ‘Seaman’s Mission’, but too often it reverted to stereotypical scousers being, well, stereotypical scousers, and was the poorer for it.
The old adage for any writer is to show, not tell, and nowhere is this more relevant than on the stage. There is a rich lyrical quality to Forrester’s writing that captures the imagination as any good novel should, but here we are presented with a number of speeches to the audience that tell us about unfolding events that we don’t get to see: there was an array of acting talent on stage tonight and it is disappointing that they have not been given the opportunity to show us that.
Richard Foxton’s staged backdrop of Liverpool landmarks provides a sense of place and Kate Harvey’s sound design certainly supports most locations, but beyond a table and chair being brought on and off at various points, there is little else to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of blanker canvases for actors to shine in front of but when it consists of telling us what they are thinking or someone else is doing – and the ‘Seaman’s Mission’ is a perfect example of that – then there is that little to look at I may as well have been listening to an audiobook.
There are some glimmers that hint at what could have been, with McDonald’s Mrs Hicks scenes particularly touching. Taylor excels at humour, so it was lovely to see another side to his talent with his portrayal of the Old Gentleman quite moving. Murphy narrated word perfectly; now I’d like to see her act.
There’s a captive audience for anything Liverpool-related in and around Merseyside but at approximately £30/ticket, I’m not sure the value was there with this production. Oh, and get rid of the mics: there’s a stage and it’s a theatre – I want to see the cast project.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 9th September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★