Writer: Helen Forrester
Adapter: Rob Fennah
Director: Bob Eaton
Reviewer: John Roberts
Twopence To Cross The Mersey is adapted from the memoirs of Hoylake born June Huband (Helen Forrester) who as a young girl growing up during Great Depression faced insurmountable hardship, her family were bankrupted and Helen was kept out of education so she could “help” her mother look after her six other brothers and sisters. The family had to rely on the kindness of strangers and handouts from the church and other sources – by all accounts,Twopence To Cross The Mersey is no fairytale, in fact, it’s a story of hardship and incredible determination… It’s just a shame that for such a powerful personal story, this production should feel so lacking in emotional depth.
Its fault clearly lies in the adaptation by Rob Fennah, in his attempt to stay true to Helen’s memoirs, he has fallen into a trap that many a stage adaptation before it has fallen… far too much narrative exposition and as a result any emotional connection we start to gain with the characters gets stripped away as soon as the fourth wall is broken and another lengthy passage is delivered. Audiences are not stupid and certainly don’t need spoon feeding every bit of detail – Paul Hunter Artistic Director of Told By An Idiot once said to me “Why do we need to ‘tell’ the audience something, when we can show it.”
Director Bob Eaton has become a regular theatre-maker in the region and his productions always carry a sense of creativity and pace, however here it seems his creativity stopped at the moving of two chairs, a table and a couple of door frames – hindered perhaps by a rather plain and simplistic set design by Richard Foxton? That said the whole show seems to step up a gear and saves itself from its own voice in the second act. We start to see more character and less narration from the piece, we start to see more interesting and evocative lighting states from Doug Kuhrt instead of white washes that plague the first half and we won’t even begin to explore Rob and Alan Fennah’s heavy handed underscoring.
The cast are arguably doing the best with the little they are actually given, however, many characters are sadly reduced to stereotype – broad strokes and shoehorned jokes, it all just feels a little brash and heavy-handed for what is such an intimate and affecting tale. That said Maria Lovelady excels as Helen and helps wring out the little emotional depth that still exists in the stage production, likewise Eithne Browne also delivers a strong range of supporting characters, one can’t help but be moved by the love and kindness displayed on Christmas Eve when portraying Mrs Hicks. Christopher Jordan as Helen’s Father manages to play the down trodden husband role with aplomb it’s just a shame he has to wear a hideously over destressed suit in the second half which almost pulls focus away from a strong performance.
Twopence To Cross The Mersey should have been an evening of touching and emotive storytelling, sadly it was lacking on almost all fronts, I guess the adage is true… sometimes you just can’t beat the book.
Runs at The Royal Court until 8 October and on tour until 12 November 2016 | Image: Contributed