Review: ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ at Liverpool Theatre—Gritty Drama Echoes 1980s Struggle, Stellar Performances Shine


Rating:  * * *

Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff was, without any doubt, an 80s phenomenon. It was as ground-breaking as it was hard-hitting—a truly gritty drama in every sense of the word. Fast forward forty years, and while the sentiment of struggle and oppression is sadly still evident and highly relatable, this play, for me, was heavily laboured—no pun intended—and at times, tedious.

This adaptation by James Graham, directed by Kate Wasserberg, was too lengthy and overly desperate to incorporate all the nuances of each character from the original one-season, five-episode series broadcast in 1982. The play would have had a greater impact (in my opinion) had each act been reduced by twenty minutes. I suspect that while enthusiastic applause was awarded, this was the main reason that a standing ovation was not achieved.

That said, the acting was truly excellent. The ten-strong cast comprising George Caple, Dominic Carter, Helen Carter, Arun Julius, Nathan McMullen, Lauren O’Neil, Jamie Peacock, Barry Sloane, Philip Whitchurch, and Mark Womack delivered superb performances, each portraying the depths of despair felt during the 1980s in Liverpool.

The standout performance has to be Barry Sloane (Yosser), whose palpable frustrations, combined with fear and shame at not being able to provide for his family, were outstanding! Sloane’s portrayal was intense, volatile, often emotional, sometimes funny (Graeme Souness and Magnum moustache references), demonstrating the desperate lengths Yosser would go to—ensuring the audience was left in no doubt of his exhaustion, anger, and overwhelming sense of hopelessness. His script was littered with the infamous lines: “Gizza job. Go on, gizzit, go ‘head, giz it if you’ve got it, giz it, I can do it. Giz it then. Go ‘head, gizza job.”

Additionally, the set design was magnificent and versatile despite its accessorised intricacies. It was swiftly adaptable as a backdrop to the docks, the employment office, Malloy’s builder yard, and at times, the inside of houses.

This play initially received significant hype, consequently returning for its second run in Liverpool within a matter of months before it tours in London. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the press night on its first run and highly anticipated last night’s performance; for me, the writing and adaptation let it down.

This current performance runs until 11th May. All tickets must be booked via the box office: 0151 709 4321.

Photo Credit: Andrew AB Photography

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