The Heart of Everton’s Badge tells the story of Everton and their beloved ground Goodison Park. The play begins with a Radio Merseyside interview outside the Lock- Up to promote the forthcoming move to Bramley Moore Docks. Two passionate Evertonians Jim (Paul Duckworth) and Robbo (John Burns) force their way through the crowds and barricade themselves inside the Lock-Up in a protest against the move.

Jim tells Robbo he is going to find Prince Rupert’s gold which is buried somewhere inside the Lock-Up, use it to restore their beloved Goodison and prevent the move ever taking place. Robbo is sceptical but begrudgingly agrees to help.

But moving an old chair uncovers a secret tunnel and the ghost of Prince Rupert himself appears (Carl Cockram). He is the first of many ghosts with a story to tell about Everton’s past, each one teaching Jim and Robbo more about the true meaning of the heart of Everton’s badge in a style reminiscent of a football fan’s Christmas Carol.

The bare brickwork set contrasts with the luxurious description of the fancy new stadium which is made to sound more like an upper-class shopping mall than a football ground. Clever use was made of the space on the stage to show that Jim and Robbo were inside the Lock-Up while remaining fully visible to the audience. The actors made use of depth, body language and voice tone to create a convincing illusion of a brick wall between them.

Lighting was used to good effect to create a sense of candlelight inside the Lock-Up. Clips of football were played on a screen shrewdly giving a roundness to the story while triggering memories of the target audience.

Football chants delivered behind the audience and songs, both original and long loved by Everton, were used to complete the atmosphere.

Joe Shipman particularly stood out for both the pride and confidence in his performance as Dixie Dean and his strong physical comedy elements as the Drunken Copper. Both characters were looking back to a different time when football didn’t revolve around money which sat well with the theme of pride.

There was a good mix of hilarious comedy and emotional scenes which created a wonderful atmosphere of memories which would resonate with a bitter and proud fan of any football team which has had its dark days. The good memories of victories at Goodison contrasted well with the negative history and lost chances to create a well-rounded story of proper English football. A touching tribute to the people of Liverpool shows that when it comes to supporting your city, it’s what’s in your heart that really counts.

Unfortunately, there were some microphone interference issues in the second half which led to some of the dialogue being completely inaudible, though this can be put down to opening night teething difficulties.

The pace of the play dropped slightly at the end when Bessie Braddock’s ghost appeared (Keddy Sutton). The dialogue here seemed to circle without coming to a point before trailing off anticlimactically. This section of the script could be tightened up to create a stronger conclusion to the play.

Written by Kenny O’Connell with poetry by Bobby Parry, and directed by Carl Cockram, this is a tale of passion, dedication and loyalty, bringing together the pride of history and hope for the future, both for football and the people around you.

The Heart of Everton’s Badge to The Grand Old Lady is showing at the Epstein Theatre until 25th August. Tickets are available here

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 22nd August 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★