Book, Music and Lyrics/Director : Anne Dalton
Reviewer: Tate James
Her Benny returns to Liverpool, this time at the Royal Court Theatre in its 25th Anniversary Production, which begs the question “Did we need reminding?”. The answer, in honesty, is probably no; but there is still potential for the mix of loveable children and brassy Scouse accents to entertain the masses through an evening of nostalgia.
Silas Hocking’s 1879 novel of the same name will never cease to warm the hearts of even the toughest critic, as the destitute young boy Benny Bates does all he can to protect his younger sister, Nell, from the inevitable cold winds off the River Mersey and even colder welcome from his abusive father at the end of a fruitless working day.
Anne Dalton’s stoic production has had many an incarnation across theatres in the North West over its quarter-century, and with that many famous regional faces in its leading roles. Essentially, though, not very much has changed; an array of 90s power ballad choral numbers, interspersed with fragments of a wholesome and (dare I say it?) twee plot. What holds it back is its lack of imagination: staging, set and even the structure of the script all feel as though unaltered from the original 1993 mounting, which was no doubt authentic in 1993 but now feels like high-quality amateur dramatics.
That said, there are some strong updates in the form of exciting choreography by Nazene Danielle, performed by a hard-working youthful ensemble sporting a catalogue of costumes from Benny’s-gone-by. The assortment of characters played by Lindzi Germain are a welcome break from the obligatory melancholy of the tale; she knows how to work the Royal Court regulars.
But the reason for its staying power is the children, with three teams of youngsters sharing both the leading roles and ensemble teams. Team Nell delighted on Press Night, with Louie Gray and Evie Kaufman on the charm offensive as siblings Benny and Nell, and Sophia Wilkinson-Hill singing beautifully as Eva.
Both the show and the production have a wholesome vintage feel; it is a remnant from a time of simpler and less spectacular musicals; in its current form it can’t compete with the glamour and grit of the contemporary theatre scene, though potentially has a future in the catacombs of the amateur dramatics repertoire. With a full revamp and some new songs, the heart of this Liverpool Tale could be revived for another 25 years. “Everyone deserves the chance to dream.”
Runs Until Saturday 10th February 2018 | Image: Contributed