Liverpool Everyman – until 14 July 2018
The Everyman rep company is wrapping up its second successful season this month with a reprise of all four of the very diverse productions it has been staging since the start of the year. Paint Your Wagon, along with Othello, A Clockwork Orange and Peer Gynt retelling The Big I Am are all showing in rotation throughout July; but this particular performance stood out on its own.
Having been desperate to catch at least some of the season but unable to leave my new small child at home, I’d asked if he might be welcome at this week’s relaxed show – more typically attended by adults (and carers where necessary) living with conditions not usually catered for in the theatrical space, such as autism, dementia or even social anxiety.
The house lights aren’t fully dimmed, the auditorium doors remain open for anyone who may need to leave during the performance and unavoidable noise is tolerated. But it’s much more than that, and the care and attention that was paid to ensure everyone was comfortable and catered for was remarkable.
Extra staff were dotted around the auditorium in bright T-shirts to make them easily identifiable should anyone need a hand during the show. There were large print-outs over existing signage in the building to help people find their way more easily; I was offered water when feeding the baby. They had thought of most everything to make people feel welcome and to create a special experience, and staff were clearly genuinely invested in it.
As part of this, the cast came out before the show to introduce themselves and lead a singalong to Paint Your Wagon’s biggest number ‘Wand’rin’ Star’, presumably an acknowledgement to the benefits of singing and remembering old songs to those living with dementia.
So a comfy, cosy classic musical was always going to hit the spot.
As a production, the Everyman’s Paint Your Wagon doesn’t seem to make quite as big or urgent a political statement as last year’s season opener Fiddler on the Roof, although it does leave some huge themes to linger long after. In general, Learner and Loewe’s show is neither quite as catchy a musical as Oklahoma, say, nor as full-blown daft and of-it’s-time as something like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. But occupying that same ballpark of old school Americana, it entertains while quaintly throwing up the kind of issues – namely race and gender oppression – that should seriously raise the eyebrows of a modern audience.
Ben Rumson (Patrick Brennan) has founded a new town at the height of the Californian Gold Rush; but amongst the hundreds of male prospectors there is only one female in the whole place – his daughter Jen (Emily Hughes). He’s keen to send her back east for an education and from the army of distracted men, when she falls for Mexican Julio (Marc Elliot). The times, they are a-changin’.
There’s a simplicity to this production that allows it to shine. The stage is bare a lot of the time, props are quite minimal and the story flows well. It showcases the rapport of the incredibly talented ensemble and band to great effect, leaving you hungry to see how they work together on the other (very different) plays in the season.
With regards to the relaxed performance, it was great to see first hand how beneficial they can be for audience and venue alike. Before the show had even started, the atmosphere that had been fostered was a warm and friendly one, and it was profoundly moving with it – a powerful reminder of everything that is special about theatre; the Ev really can make you feel you’re at home like nowhere else.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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