Even if you are not familiar with the heart-wrenching autobiography of Helen Forrester, this is a play you could enjoy, and many would relate to it, if not first-hand but through the memories passed down from family members. This is a strong adaptation and, in my opinion, outperforms previous productions (twelve) of this tragic tale.
This was a long-awaited production as Helen Forrester’s play “By The Waters Of Liverpool” inaugural 12-week 17-venue tour in Spring 2020 was abandoned, after visiting only three theatres due to the Covid-19 pandemic prior to the national lockdown.
High praise initially needs to be afforded to Bill Elms and Pulse Stage Productions who persevered after the closure of The Epstein Theatre, to continue to source a suitable venue in which to commence the tour. The Auditorium, attached to M&S Arena, proved to be a fantastic choice, providing a much larger stage allowing for impressive yet simple scenery, which cleverly depicted the era of the play. Well done to Richard Foxton – Set designer, as this allowed for a quick transition into scenes within Helen’s home, Doris and Norm’s dance studio, and Helen’s workplace.
Rob Fennah – Writer, Musician, and joint Producer of the show, along with Gareth Tudor Price – Director, adeptly reincarnated the story of Helen’s woeful life; her narcissistic mother and financially inept father that led to their tragic tale of demise. The precision of historical events interweaved with emotions of the characters ensured they were believable, allowing you to empathize with their situation. There were so many lines that resonated with the audience, not only in terms of nostalgic landmarks such as: the iconic Lime Street Station’s steps and clock, the docks, and Stanley Park but also with sayings like ‘meet you under the clock’ and ‘let’s stroll around the shops of Bold Street’.
Newcomer Emma Mulligan was tremendous in the lead role of Helen. She depicted her character as naive, vulnerable, downtrodden yet resilient, grateful, and even hopefully optimistic towards the end. Her breakdown was harrowing to watch; however, much credit to the actress who made you believe in her plight. She had us ‘rooting’ for her despite the cruel end.
Tom Roberts and Lynn Francis delivered sterling performances as Helen’s parents. They were utterly dislikable and derelict in their duties of providing for their children before themselves, even unjustly treating their children differently. Helen’s mother was portrayed as a narcissistic bully towards her daughter with misguided delusions of grandeur, despite both her and her husband declaring bankruptcy following the great depression of the 1930s. They could not and simply refused to adapt to their newfound economic situations and relocation from South West England to Liverpool, which caused further distress upon their family.
Unfortunately, I did think that a number of the cast over-acted at times and, along with their very questionable Yorkshire and Lancashire accents, plus their overly loud delivery of their lines, occasionally detracted from the performance. This is a tragically woeful tale; however, it was ‘real-life’ for many, so to have unnecessary comedic lines purely to provide balance to the show, that sometimes were not delivered authentically was… a shame.
This professional production will now embark on a tour. If you are looking for a wonderfully sublime night of entertainment, please ensure you book tickets for one or more of the below venues.
Overall Rating: Four Stars ****
LIVERPOOL – THE AUDITORIUM AT M&S BANK ARENA
Monday 4 September – Wednesday 6 September 2023
CREWE – LYCEUM
Monday 18 September – Tuesday 19 September 2023
COVENTRY – ALBANY THEATRE
Wednesday 20 September – Thursday 21 September 2023
SALE – WATERSIDE
Friday 22 September – Saturday 23 September 2023
RHYL – PAVILION
Tuesday 26 September – Wednesday 27 September 2023
DARLINGTON – HIPPODROME
Friday 29 September – Saturday 30 September 2023
LICHFIELD – GARRICK
Tuesday 3 October – Wednesday 4 October 2023
ST HELENS – THEATRE ROYAL
Monday 9 October – Wednesday 11 October 2023
SOUTHPORT – THE ATKINSON
Thursday 12 October – Saturday 14 October 2023
HALIFAX – VICTORIA THEATRE
Monday 16 October – Tuesday 17 October 2023
LYTHAM – LOWTHER PAVILION
Thursday 19 October – Saturday 21 October 2023
NEW BRIGHTON – FLORAL PAVILION
Tuesday 24 October – Sunday 29 October 2023