LTF shows provide the perfect warmup for September’s Liverpool Theatre Festival
2 years ago
The Liverpool Theatre Festival makes a welcome return in September but for those unable to wait until then, the Little Theatre Festival of New Works took place this week premiering no less than 14 plays by Merseyside creatives.
The outdoor festival in St Luke’s Bombed Out Church boasted an opening night of A Brief Conversation About The Inevitability Of Love by renowned local playwright Ian Salmon. His much acclaimed productions Girls Don’t Play Guitars and Those Two Weeks were concerned with landmarks in Liverpool’s history – the 1960s all female group the Liverbirds, and 1989 Hillsborough disaster respectively – but in this his most recent work, Salmon turns his attentions to romantic love. Affairs of the heart are a universal shared experience no matter where we live or come from and in this bittersweet two hander starring Thomas Galashan and Sam Walton we see couple Mark and Cathy exchanging their own individual versions of the long erratic journey before finally being together.
It brings home how stories of the same event in our own lives differ so wildly participant to participant, witness to witness, emotions cranked right up when love and lust is involved, blurring and sharpening memories. The pair seem remarkably well travelled as they guide us through their story, interacting with each other with varying intensities in Keele, Selfridges on London Oxford Road, Bude service station arcade, in Glasgow and outside an unnamed pub.
There’s something very Sliding Doors about the whole affair as they laugh and argue about glimpsing each other briefly on occasion but the next time connecting emotionally, recalling minute detail. Those brief encounters add up, connecting them like links in a chain. So much so that as they banter they resemble that couple at every dinner party ever, who snipe at each other but there’s something keeping them together no matter what.
This is a romance with a painful twist punching the audience straight in the feels, a happy ending and yet not completely so. Kind of like real life.
American singer and activist Paul Robeson had strong connections with Liverpool. Though he died some forty five years ago, affections for him within the city remain strong. In 1949 his powerful bass-baritone and presence drew 10,000 people to Lord Street, to hear him sing one May afternoon. Paul’s stage that day was a flat-bed truck and he was accompanied by a piano borrowed from Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
Contemporary playwright, actor and singer Tayo Aluko recreated the scene a couple of years ago in conjunction with the Writing on the Wall festival. As part of the Little LTF strand on Thursday he presented Paul Robeson’s Love Song: An Audio Play (With Pictures) set in 2020 but with flashbacks from Robeson’s America. Within it there are clever links with the modern Black Lives Matter movement and the singer’s – played by Aluko – experiences of racism in the 1930s, 1940s and beyond. It brings home that indeed advances around equality have been made but at the same time we haven’t moved on that much.
The play springs from the fictional discovery of a long lost or treasured, depending on how you view it, recording of Robeson’s found during last summer in America against the backdrop of the divisive unsettling nature of the US presidential campaign. Paul Robeson’s flaws are not concealed during the play; his philandering is referred to numerous times but it’s the unrequited love by platonic friend Jessica Winger played by Lisa Merrill which provides the catalyst in connecting the past with the present. She squirrels away a recording of his which was to be destroyed, but is discovered by her granddaughter decades after her death.
Both Ian Salmon and Tayo Aluko explore concepts of time and memory in their Little LTF plays, and highlight that history is super relevant to our lives in 2021.
That said, looking forward we can view these performances as a quality appetiser of what to expect in September. The Liverpool Theatre Festival was staged for the first time last year in response to an ongoing need for live entertainment during Covid-19, and to remind us of the true value of theatre performed locally here in Liverpool.
Liverpool Theatre Festival is also to be set at St Luke’s and offers a wide variety of works. Electric Dreams is a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opera Beneath The Stars is two hours of opera with live piano accompaniment, Broken Biscuits is about the value of friendship – and biscuits, The Last Five Years is the story of a couple who fall in and out of love over the course of five years, and Something About George – The George Harrison Story tells the story of the quiet Beatle who was not quiet at all!
Liverpool Theatre Festival 2021 is on between Wednesday 1 September and Sunday 12 September. For the full schedule and how to buy tickets go to the website here.