Writer: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Nick Bagnall
March 2020, theatres were told to shut, bringing with it the premature closing of Jonathan Harvey’s latest production Our Lady of Blundellsands. Now 18 months on, the show re-opens Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre with half of the original cast still in tow including Josie Lawrence in the lead role of Sylvie.
Harvey’s play is no easy watch, while it may have real moments of comedy gold (as one would expect) it also ramps up the volume on the domestic drama. This is a kitchen-sink drama for the modern generation where mental health and life’s many surprises are explored within this powerful and profound production.
Janet Bird’s cramped Blundellsands front room set really helps to set the scene, the messiness of the room a direct reflection on the messiness of the people who inhabit this homestead. The dressing is just as stuck in the past as the characters and that’s where the central conflict of Harvey’s piece firmly lies. The past is a dark place with many skeletons in the closest and each of the six characters has their own secrets which they have seemingly hidden from each other – all it takes is a birthday party to bring them all together for the secrets to quickly and tragically unveil.
Nick Bagnall’s production weaves the drama with plenty of humour, and while at times the stage is busy it never overwhelms, allowing the audience to feel just as pent up as the characters. The production at times does feel a little too much, arguably one or two of the subplots could have been left out and the production feel just as important and dramatic but that is a small point in an otherwise powerful night at the theatre.
Nathan McMullen as Lee Lee and Gemma Brodrick as Alyssa bring plenty to the smaller more supportive roles, Brodrick, especially rinsing the humour out of Alyssa’s naivety brilliantly. In the tormented roles of long-term lovers Nana Amoo-Gottfried as Frankie and Mickey Jones as Mickey-Joe/Crystal spa perfectly off each other bringing at times some much-needed light relief to proceedings. But the production really relies on Joanne Howarth as Garnet and Lawrence as Sylvie. Howarth and Lawrence’s chemistry is electric, their character’s frictions and love for each other being palpable from the off. The dynamic between the two is deeply moving – the result of a powerful combination of acting prowess and brutally painful/honest writing from Harvey. Lawrence gives the performance of her career, the deep-rooted sadness of Sylvie agonizingly apparent through every story, tale and lie the character holds on to.
Our Lady of Blundellsands gets the production and cast it deserves and is a brilliant start to the Everyman’s re-opening season.
Runs until 9 October 2021