Riotous Comedy with a Modern Twist
Dominic Hill’s revival of Sheridan’s 1775 comedy of manners, The Rivals, is a joy to behold as it sets off a number of themes including love against money, old against young, and reason against emotion as, with a malapropism never far from her lips, Mrs Malaprop (Julie Legrand) looks to marry off her niece, Lydia Languish (Lucy Briggs-Owen), to Captain Jack Absolute (Rhys Rusbatch) with the endorsement of his father Sir Anthony Absolute (Desmond Barrit), a man used to getting his way in all things and assured in the knowledge that no good can come of teaching young ladies to read. As if to prove that point, young Lydia’s head is indeed full of romance from reading books and she has set her heart on marrying the penniless Ensign Beverley, little realising that he and Jack are in fact one and the same.
The scene is set. It’s the 1940s in Baltimore and an anxious cast awaits the opening night of their musical version of Mr Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In true theatrical fashion, not all goes to plan and the frivolity of the musical is outshined by the shenanigans that occur off stage, behind the scenes. Lilli Vanessi, played by the wonderful Jeni Bern, is starring in her ex-husband Mr Fred Graham’s show, played by Quirjin de Land, who just so happens to take a fancy for the showgirl turned ‘serious actor’ Lois Lane, played by the beautifully talented Amelia Adams-Pearce. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, Lois’s no-good gambler boyfriend Bill Calhoun, played by Alan Burkitt, has racked up a shocking amount of debt that he purposefully frames Mr Graham for, resulting in a not-so-intimidating pair of gangsters, played by the brilliant Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, to collect his debt.
As Liverpool Comedy Festival enters its 14th year, this year it has launched Funny Looking Fringe which it describes as “fresh, funny and fine comedy with an alternative twist”. With the brilliant Arthur Smith as patron of this new addition to the Liverpool Comedy Festival it promises a great deal. All of the performance included in Funny Looking Fringe take place in the charming 81 Renshaw Street, cafe by day, supporter of theatre and comedy by night. Beautiful art was hung on the walls of this small establishment in the heart of Liverpool City Centre and there was certainly a buzz in the air before the show began.
After receiving the confirmation that I would be reviewing The Last Utopian, there was an added sense of anticipation for this event due to the fact that the location for the event was secret. A further email was received with details of the location and a request for me to send a picture of myself to Dr Wellington, a character from the production.
I’ve just had a wonderful afternoon, wearing a boiler suit and a hard hat, walking along dusty narrow corridors and climbing up and down many flights of stairs. It was because I had the privilege to be part of the first ‘Footman Tour’ of St. George’s Hall in Liverpool.
We were told that whilst refurbishment had been taking place they found a bricked up tunnel and when it was opened two footman stepped out saying they had been there since the 1800s! Smith and Jones knew parts of the building that had never been opened to the public before and so began our great adventure in time and space.
We walked down a corridor that contained part of the current walking tour of the hall but then we ushered through a side door, along a more functional corridor and then on to a balcony. It was then I realised that we were standing high above the ballroom, looking at the best Victorian England had to offer at a time when Liverpool was the second most important city after London. Beautiful chandeliers, exquisitely carved statues and the extremely grand pipe organ. When Queen Victoria visited, in 1851, she thought St. George’s Hall was ‘one of the finest modern buildings imaginable…The taste is so good and the style so pure…’
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