Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hope Place – Liverpool Everyman – 09/05/2014

We were fine until he came along. With his history this and history that.
Note: As this posting was written following the first preview of this new play, some scenes referred to may have subseqeuntly changed.

The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the Everyman auditorium is Peter McKintosh’s immense set. Every square inch of the stage floor and the walls covered in detail and the frontage of a Georgian house to the rear, reaching upward out of sight behind the technical grid. Before the opening much of what is on the forestage is partially obscured by projection effects but scene by scene we find that the house is effectively turned inside out on itself, so that we can see a series of interiors as well as the comings and goings in the street.
While much of the action takes place in the basement kitchen of number 8 Hope Place and in the street outside, other scenes take us round the corner to the very spot on which the present Everyman Theatre stands and it is here that the play begins in the year 1699. While the main characters are living in the present day, intermittent flashbacks evoke memories – both theirs and those of others – and it is this sense of a shared history that holds the story together.
Maggie lives alone in the house, her family having moved away. None of them far, but they’ve all gone off and had lives while she has stayed home to care for her parents until they had both gone. But families usually come together for a funeral and it’s their mother’s that brings Maggie’s sister Veronica, her brothers Eric and Jack and her niece Josie back to Hope Place.
Along with Josie is her new boyfriend Simon, the posh one from Birkenhead, and he decides that as this family have lived for generations in the same house they’ll provide a rich source of material for his PhD thesis, which is to be based on oral history. This is the simple premise for unfolding the lives and memories of the characters and blending them with the history of the locality. A portrait of ordinary local people of Liverpool and the Hope Street area they live in. How could anything have been more appropriate for a first new commission for the new Everyman?
Delving into the past often wakes up its ghosts and soon we’re aware of the secrets and lies that lie in the family’s history. Rage, reverie, resentment and reconciliation follow in the next couple of hours as the tales of the past are told. Sometimes the truth blurs with oft told stories and reality is hard to pin down.
Hugely effective are passages where children appear playing out the adult’s memories. There is a double cast of children in these roles who are alternating performances, and the team on stage for yesterday’s first night were superb.
Along the way, through Simon’s interviews for his thesis, we meet other local residents - a bar owner, an incomer from London a sex worker, and we also catch glimpses of residents from the past as we drift back and forth through the decades.
This play is both poignant and witty. It has a great sense of structure too – with a conclusion that feels as though we’ve reached a safe place to stop on the ongoing journey. There are no tidy endings but there is a resolution. Michael Wynne has succeeded in celebrating the locality, its past, its present and its people, without ever losing sight of what a play needs for longevity.
Lighting and sound design from Tim Lutkin and Fergus O’Hare, with music by Isobel Waller-Bridge, create the atmosphere on set and the slick scene transitions.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh has assembled a great cast, many of them familiar local faces. Neil Caple and Joe McGann play brothers Eric and Jack and Tricia Kelly their sister Veronica. Josie is played by Emma Lisi and her boyfriend Simon by Ciaran Kellgren. Michelle Butterly not only evokes the ghost of the mother but also performs six other characters including a music hall singer who opens the second act. Alan Stocks also has seven characters, from a 17th century farmer to the family’s late father. On Friday evening Freya Barnes, Rumah Norton, Harry Turpin and Sam Vaughan played the children’s roles, while on other nights they alternate with Julia Carlyle, Kaitlyn Hogg, Frank Turpin and George Turpin.
I have left one person till last because, while the entire cast are excellent, it is Eileen O’Brien’s tremendous performance as Maggie that really stands out for the huge range of emotion that she finds in her multifaceted character.
Hats off to the cast and creative team of Hope Place for scoring another bull’s-eye for the Everyman.
I saw the first preview performance yesterday and Hope Place plays Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 31st May – full details available at or click here

Author and Director were in the house gauging audience reaction and scribbling notes, so some scenes may be modified.

Artwork by Bolland & Lowe for production publicity and playtext

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