Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bright Phoenix – Liverpool Everyman – 04/10/2014

Tell me something you really believe in and then I’ll tell you if I believe you.

In the spring the Everyman took us to Hope Place where the street and its community wove a tale linking past and present, exploring the changes in our city from a hilltop view.

For the autumn she carries us further down the hill to Lime Street, where the now derelict Futurist Cinema rises as a Bright Phoenix through the imagination and haunted memories of a group of friends who have been left to fall into the same dereliction as the once grand Picture Palace.

Back then they stole into the darkened cinema to inhabit the characters on screen, and now they shelter under its broken rafters recalling their past and dreaming of a future in which they regain dominion over their city.

Bright Phoenix is a surreal and magical piece of theatre that tells the story as though we see the characters' past and present through a kaleidoscope – broken fragments of coloured glass tumbling around in the light allowing us to catch glimpses of episodes in their lives, sometimes clearly remembered, sometimes illusory.

In a city undergoing a renaissance, we find ourselves reflecting on forgotten lives, fractured communities and lost treasures, that have been allowed to decay and become little more than memory.

Paul Duckworth returns to the Everyman as Lucas Firebright, who has been gone for two decades since he tried to escape from the tragedy of his teenage years. Now he returns home to find his childhood friends and rekindle old loves with the people and places that formed him, and to confront the horrors of his past.

Lucas meets his old one-eyed friend Spike (Rhodri Meilir), whose life follows him in a shopping trolley, and the conspiratorial Lizzie (Penny Layden) who he once canoodled with in the darkened cinema, to the disgust of her brother Alan “Icarus” (Carl Au). They are serenaded from the rooftops by Stephen Shakey (Mark Rice-Oxley) who is subsequently forced to join them under the starlit roof of the Futurist. We also find Lizzie’s son Calumn (Kieran Urquhart) who has his own entrepreneurial way of making a living.

Cathy Tyson cuts a strange and other-worldly figure as Elsie, as derelict as the boarded up shops of Lime Street, but who later emerges refulgent in the guise of Rita Hayworth as Gilda, putting the blame on Mame.

The remainder of the parts (including “The entire population of Lime Street”) are all brought to life in a series of colourful characterisations by Rhian Green.

Through memory and dream-like sequences we discover the history of Lucas and his friends, how Spike lost an eye and what befell Alan Icarus before Lucas fled the city. We see their vision of the night-time from the rooftops and follow their quest to regain a voice in the community.

Martin Heslop has composed a multicoloured and atmospheric score which is performed live by Laura J Martin and Vidar Norheim, who become part of the theatrical landscape almost as the street musicians of the city accompany the night revellers down the road.

Ti Green’s apocalyptic stage design pulls the stage round at a slight angle, with seating rearranged to wrap around the action even more than usual. The skeletons and scaffolding of disused buildings provide a rich landscape for movement and some bold technical effects have enabled many of Jeff Young’s stage directions to be lifted imaginatively from the page, including the “Wound of Liverpool” opening up as the fabric of Lime Street is rent apart.

The cast all give tremendous performances and to begin describing them would have me writing till morning. It is clear from the ambition of the staging that they must all have worked astonishingly hard to bring this piece to fruition in all its surreal vision.

Jeff Young has rekindled an old love affair with the Futurist in writing this piece set in and around the old cinema. His characters are the Everyman and Everywoman of the streets and they sing a plaintive and strangely beautiful song to their city. Director Serdar Bilis has brought the work to vivid life with all its twists, turns and bold imagery, to create a work of beguiling magic that will haunt the memory.

Bright Phoenix plays Liverpool Everyman until 25th October and tickets and further information can be found here:

Carl Au as Alan "Icarus" Flynn - photo (c) Jonathan Keenan

Futurist Cinema Lime Street - Photo (C)
Those interested in the past, present and maybe future of the Futurist Cinema can read more at:

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