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By Dale Roberts
When I heard that Twopence to Cross the Mersey was coming to the Royal Court Theatre, I knew very little of its back story. I remember I found out from my barber, Alan, who told me that he had seen it advertised and was excited to see it again. He went into the details of the story, set and costumes and explained how it was the best play he has ever seen.
I went to watch the Helen Forrester play, based on her autobiographical book, with high expectations. Expecting to be touched and moved. This is a story of real despair in one of the darkest parts of modern history. It is set in the great depression, in the aftermath of the Wall Street crash which cost so many people in the West their jobs, houses and their lives. This led to a real time of depression and also political extremes due to people desperately reaching out for some sort of hope.
This play picks up on that desperate time and you really do feel it. At points you almost feel like shouting at the cast to help them in some sort of way. However, this isn’t the type of production that I have come to be accustomed to at the Royal Court. The usual fast, snappy, funny and ‘scouse’ aspects aren’t as present as you would normally find in the wonderful cabaret theatre.
At points it’s a slow burner, the first act throws us into the story with the character delivered narration throughout which tries to speed up the story, but ultimately still makes it feel slow. The family of 8 is quite regularly implied but we only ever see four members and a blanket, all the while, different characters are introduced to us, to the point where it can be quite difficult to work out what character you are now watching.
They are the only negatives I can say about a wonderful story and production such as this. The fact that this is a real life story makes you feel desperate to find out whatever happened to Helen and her family, it makes you want to pick up the book it is based on and read it. Helen is played by the fantastic Maria Lovelady who delivers a character that is full of all the youth of a 13/14 year old, but simultaneously shows all the signs of a young lady who is thrown into a desolate situation and forced to grow up. Maria delivers the character perfectly.
One thing all the audience will notice is the relationship between the parents and Helen, their daughter. I have never disliked a character more on the stage than that of Helens mother, which is a credit to Emma Dears who plays her role perfectly. It will sit horribly with us all that while the rest of the family gets more and more shabby and dirty throughout, she stays pristine in her expensive coat. While the family struggle to eat, she refuses to sell her pointless valuable possessions. It’s heart breaking that while her daughter wants an education, she treats her with distain and selfish disgust. I have never seen a worse character in any story, which is a high accolade to hold.
A special mention must be reserved for the fantastic Eithne Brown however, who not only plays all of her parts so well, but she brings much needed hope to situation so bleak that it hurts the audience to watch at points. When the family is breaking apart, the babies are close to starving, no hope is to be found – suddenly a character pops up who can deliver a look to the audience and bring the house down laughing. It takes a special actress to do that, and Eithne is one of a kind in being that actress. It is good script writing to know when to deliver her much needed lines.
Jake Abraham, Roy Carruthers, Tom Cawte and Phil Hearne complete a cast that is abundant in acting talents. This production is a seriously good drama that must be seen. If not for appreciation of a dark point in world history, watch it for the superb acting talents on offer during this truly moving, emotional and powerful true story. 8/10
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