Director: Rod Dixon
Writer: Boff Whalley
Half-way through Red Ladder’s uplifting new musical about a bakery saved from the bulldozers, George Jones’s fanatical footie fan, Tony, begs the media not to trivialise their efforts with pie-related puns. This is a heart-warming tale about a defiant neighbourhood, determined to do things differently – so cliches about how the “pie’s the limit” for Liverpool’s famous co-operative bakery are about as welcome as city council planning officer with a regeneration plan.
But the urge to indulge in pastry-related punning is as hard to resist as one of Homebaked’s famous Shankly pies, lovingly created by Frank, a slightly more rotund version of Paul Hollywood, played with passion by Paul Broughton. It is stirring stuff – a city fighting back, sick of botched attempts to rebuild its proud past.
Writer Boff Whalley is best known for playing guitar in Chumbawumba – and the band’s famous 90s anthem Tub Thumping (I get knocked down, I get up again) would fit perfectly into this real-life tale of working-class solidarity. His script is a paean both to the humble pastry and a city famed for its community spirit – with a tasty batch of pie jokes served up with stand-up aplomb by Howard Gray’s street drinker, Trevor, each comedy nugget prefaced with: “Here’s one for yeh…”
Whalley songs, composed alone with a guitar during the first lockdown, are a manifesto of direct action: Make it Happen, Brick by Brick, Matchday and the stand-out We Rise! (pun intended) – and despite their lonely origins they feel big on stage, ably assisted by a community choir.
Leading the band of bakers, who in 2012 faced down the diggers and re-imagined an entire street, is Pauline Daniels’ Annie, aided by Steph Lacey’s wildly enthusiastic German conceptual artist, Astrid. Liam Tobin’s council official Colin makes the journey from corrupt cynic to steadfast believer after being won over by a baked bung in place of a brown envelope. George Caple’s romantic, Dylan – a daft “wool” from Widnes – is the living embodiment of the renaissance, rising from park bench to Frank’s kitchen, restoring faith when the revolt teeters on the brink of collapse.
But it is Eithne Browne’s selectively deaf and forced-into-retirement pie-shop proprietor, Mrs Mitchell, who holds the madcap gang together – a throwback to Liverpool’s better days, always ready with sage advice and withering putdowns. Olivia Du Monceau’s simple yet effective set swings to open and shut the bakery with the live band kicking things along from above as if in the attic, partly visible through torn posters.
It is a lovely story of the underdog, told with affection and hope: a victory for people power, against the odds in an era of billionaires where those with the dough usually get to call the shots. In the 1960s, perhaps the most famous Scouser of all, John Lennon, warned against global revolution when he sang: “We all want to change the world.” Rod Dixon’s Homebaked dares you to dream that if you stick together and believe, you might at least change a little bit of your world– though it won’t be easy, and certainly no piece of cake.
Runs until 23 October 2021 (Photo Jason Roberts)