Touring – reviewed at Stockport Plaza Theatre
Guest reviewer: Ian K Johnson
This adaptation of Helen Forrester’s By The Waters of Liverpool by Rob Fennah gives its audience a complete picture of Forrester’s life. The stage play also features insights from her earlier work including Liverpool Miss, flashbacks also to Twopence To Cross The Mersey, and there’s even a storyline from this great writer’s fourth autobiography Lime Street At Two.
Helen Forrester was born in 1919 in Hoylake, Cheshire and the eldest of seven children. She is the author of many popular novels alongside her four extremely successful volumes of autobiography which recall all the years of hardship suffered by herself and her family in depression hit Liverpool .
The stage has a very impressive open set, showing us a Liverpool street set against a background of Liverpool landmarks including Lime Street Station and its famous big clock where many a Liverpool lass and lad have waited for loved ones.
This adaptation has many faces from television including our leading lady Helen Forrester played by Lucy Dixon (widely known from Hollyoaks and Waterloo Road).
The cast is lead by stalwarts Mark Moraghan, Sïan Reeves and Eric Potts. We also have Parry Glasspool (recently departed from a high profile storyline and five years on Hollyoaks), Lynn Francis, Chloe McDonald, Danny O’Brien and Roy Carruthers. The ensemble cast takes on multiple roles of over 50 characters which are weaved into the plot.
The play takes its audience to the 1930s where Helen and her family have been forced to leave behind their well to do middle class life in the South West of England and Liverpool is the chosen city by the family where they intend to reside and rebuild their lives following Helen’s father’s (Moraghan) bankruptcy. The family has a great shock in front of them as this is so very different to their old life back in the South West.
Helen is taken out of school to look after her younger brother and sisters. Her mother (superbly played by Reeves) treats her as an unpaid slave at her beck and call. We are shown that Helen is certainly not treated like the two older siblings Fiona and Alan (McDonald and Glasspool).
Fiona is given pocket money to buy herself little luxuries and Alan hands over his wages to his mother but is handed most of it back to go enjoy himself, whereas Helen has to pay for things and any money given to her is known to be just a loan and is to be paid back.
Helen is sick of being treated so differently and a bitter fight ensues for her right to to go out to work and to be herself in life.
This is until her ‘fairy godmother’ arrives in the guise of Deaconess (Lynn Francis) who even though she’s a local dignitary and do-gooder takes a shine to Helen and goes out of her way to help her in any way she can.
The Deaconess lines up a job interview in a local office for Helen. Here we meet Mr Ellis and Herbert (excellently played by Eric Potts and Parry Glasspool).
Eric in all his ensemble roles shows the audience why he is so loved for his comedy timing, mannerisms and looks and gives us a masterclass in comedy, Parry as Herbert reminds me of a young Norman Wisdom he is first class in his characters on stage, excellent accents too.
As the years go by we arrive at 1939, Britain is on the verge of war with Germany, Helen has reached the age of 20, never had a boyfriend but does have a German pen pal Freidrich. Letters are sent back and forth between the two of them but this causes problems for Helen who has to go to the local police station to answer questions on her friendship and the letters.
At 20 Helen hasn’t been kissed, her life starts to improve when she meets a seaman Harry and falls in love. Her life starts to take an upturn now she has Harry in her life.
Special mention has to go to Lucy Dixon as Helen Forrester, she is never off stage and takes on the role with such ease and a pure delight to watch and listen to her cut glass accent.
Written by Rob Fennah, directed by Gareth Tudor Price, set designed by Foxton, lighting designer Ian Scott, sound designer Kate Harvey.
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