Writer: Kevin Fearon
Director: Cal McCrystal
Liverpool’s glorious Royal Court Theatre is always the most welcoming of venues. With its cabaret style seating in the stalls, and meals available for you to enjoy, as you watch the live action, it is certainly not short on atmosphere, or ‘Good Old Days’ vibe. This even extends to the cheeky, blunt speaker announcements such as “The bar will now be closing, as the show is about to start. It’s too late for a drink, now. We DID warn you!”
The Scousetrap is everything you suspect it’s going to be. Cheeky, irreverent, bawdy, and pretty entertaining. There is more than a little of the classic Carry On spirit in Kevin Fearon and Cal McCrystal’s patchy script. A rib-tickling video prologue gave us familiar black and white footage of Liverpool enduring the Luftwaffe bombings of the second world war, narrated in the clipped tones of a Pathe News broadcaster. Much mirth ensues when sarcastic comments about the elegance and immortal splendour of the infamous Adelphi Hotel hit home. Once the audience are primed, the curtain rises (very slowly), accompanied by an ear-splitting classical fanfare. The set (by ‘Takis’) is revealed to be a spectacular replica of the main ballroom of the Adelphi, and the rollercoaster ride begins.
Essentially, this is a spoof of all those over complicated Agatha Christie murder mysteries, complete with an infectious 1940s jazz score, a large cast of basic stereotypes, and a liberal dose of Mack Sennett inspired slapstick and breathless chase sequences. It has to be said, however, that the first half is a pretty mixed bag, which many of the audience felt hard pressed to raise a polite chuckle. The scene setting was a little laborious, with much dreary exposition.
Renowned detectives Miss Marble (a measured, and understated Eithne Browne), and Inspector Gaje (Gabriel Fleary) just happen to be staying in Liverpool at the same time, at the same hotel, when a blustering sex pest Admiral (David Benson) is brutally murdered. Before long, we are introduced to the other suspects, including loud-mouthed American businessman Mr W C Groper (Liam Tobin), who soon falls for the fleshy available charms of the insatiable Lady Barking-Dobson (a powerful, and frightening Helen Carter).
Threatening to steal the show, are the much put-upon hotel staff, Norman (Jack Lane) and Holly (Keddy Sutton). Lane throws himself, literally, into his goofy hybrid of Norman Wisdom and Lee Evans, pratfalling at every opportunity. While there is more than a touch of Hi-De-Hi’s Sue Pollard about Sutton’s child-like innocent kitchen maid. Zain Salim’s outrageously camp, and extrovert hotel manager completed the cast, with some curious posturing that made little narrative sense.
During the interval there were one or two comments about how slow and flat the show felt. Thankfully, the mood was optimistic, with people expecting a big improvement in the second half. Thankfully, we got it. Opening with a grand, full-cast dance routine, the pace picked up, and the audience began to get into the swing of things. The plot (what there was of it) was all but forgotten, and any attempt at a coherent story was abandoned. In its place we had a non-stop, frenetic, anything-goes farce.
The stand-out scene was a seance, conducted by Miss Marble, wherein each actor got a chance to camp it up whilst possessed by the spirits of familiar entertainment icons. A bit of Bruce Forsythe here, a burst of Louis Armstrong there, and David Bensons’s overly polite Bishop truly stole the show with an extended turn channelling Frankie Howard. We’d already had a wonderful John Le Mesurier impression for the Bishop, and now we had the ultimate scene stealer himself.
Cue an avalanche of self-deprecating remarks about how bad the show was, and how the audience had been robbed. This was treading on very thin ice, following a virtually titter-free first act in which the audience’s patience was stretched. However, the cast rose to the occasion, and the show rattled along at breakneck speed, culminating in a lengthy, nonsensical chase sequence, set to the classic Dick Barton theme.
Cal McCrystal’s direction is curiously uneven, with the odd scene feeling a little under-rehearsed, and some cast members struggling with their comic timing. But, when in doubt, throw the kitchen sink in. False noses, bendy-legged dummies, OTT sound effects, a few crude innuendos, and the day is saved.
This is a show that will evolve, one suspects, but at the moment relies on the sheer energy and bravura performances of its hard-working cast.
Runs until 29 October 2022