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On the Ledge

Bleasdale's forgotten comedy is taken off the shelf after 14 years. Heather Smith is enthralled

Published on April 30th 2008.


On the Ledge

EUROPEAN Capital of what?! Yeah right, like that’ll ever happen!

So might have been the retort 15 years ago, but is Liverpool really such a different place than it was on bommy night in1993?

Alan Bleasdale explored corruption and the city’s infamous comic despair in his play On The Ledge and, although the themes are more than a decade old, it somehow remains as topical today.

With the help of an always-lively Liverpool audience, this theatre is becoming a great, if not the great venue of Culture year and beyond

After a run at the National Theatre in 1993, On The Ledge was put aside and left to gather dust. However, this Royal Court revival, starring so many familiar faces, could see an end to its obscurity for one reason: it’s brilliant.

Much of this is thanks to Bob Eaton, much-celebrated director of over 30 years, for bringing together the terrific cast that this makes this show such a joy to watch. The play boasts an overwhelming dose of local talent including Andrew Schofield and Roy Brandon, who have barely finished taking their bows for Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels; Gillian Hardie and Lenny Wood, who starred in the remake of Stags and Hens earlier in the year, and Louis Emerick, Gary Bleasdale, Dave Hart and Neil Fitzmaurice who are all newcomers to this growing Royal Court ensemble.

The plot brings together nine characters that are “on the ledge” for one reason or another. These individuals are impeccably real across the scale - from the Boss and the Brutes to the Scallies and the Tart and, typical of Bleasdale, their different lives become skilfully entwined by the classic mix of drama, humour, wit and, of course, politics.

The action takes place high up on the city’s skyline, and Billy Meall’s set is an engineering feat in itself. The top two floors of a high-rise tower block, The Heights, are designed to look simple, yet the design is bravely complex and thus incredibly effective, utilised to its full potential by all of the actors who move around it skillfully, and, thankfully, do not suffer from vertigo.

Each of the characters has their own individual gripe, whether it be about the state of their life, the state of city and indeed the nation or, in the case of The Brute (Louis Emerick) ,the state of his beloved white Ford Cortina. For a time, it looked as if Emerick was going to steal the show with his amusingly-aggressive intimidation of the two scallies but it was fireman Moey (Andrew Schofield) who deservedly got the best reception of the night.

Schofield’s hilarious, anger-fuelled political rant reminded many of the crowd what it was like in 1993, after 14 years of the Tories, and caused a raucous eruption of cheer and applause. This was typical of the entire play; the humour did not disappoint nor did it stop the serious, stimulating points from being made.

“That’s the first time I’ve been out in town for ages,” admitted one woman upon leaving the theatre. I bet she wasn’t the only one. A major part of the Royal Court’s restoration has been its devotion not only to showcasing outstanding local talent such as that in Brick Up and Stags and Hens, but crucially making sure that these great, accessible shows are given a fresh lease of life.

With the help of an always-lively Liverpool audience, this theatre is becoming a great, if not the great venue of Culture year and beyond. So, whether you’re an avid theatre goer or haven’t seen a play in donkeys years, the reviving Royal Court is the place to be and Alan Bleasdale’s harsh yet hilarious On The Ledge is most definitely the play to see.

9/10

On The Ledge, Royal Court, Roe Street, tel: 0870 787 1866, until May 24

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