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Theatre Review: Windermere (Actors Studio)

Heather Smith finds more than the songs are familiar in Tommy Kearney's latest tale

Published on September 30th 2008.


Theatre Review: Windermere (Actors Studio)

THERE is an awkward atmosphere as Tommy Kearney's coming-of-age tale, Windermere, begins at the Actors Studio. Surrounded by only a handful of other audience members, the performers - who initially seem too big for the tiny stage they burst on to - are dauntingly close and it takes a short while to get used to.

The story, set late seventies, early eighties, centres around five kids growing up in the city of Liverpool.

Ben (Stephen Donald) thinks he can be the next Ian Rush, Robbie (Simon Brignull) secretly dreams of becoming an artist, Jane and Lisa (Emma Dallow, Victoria Denard) argue the toss over who will become Mrs Simon Le Bon, while the good-for-nothing Pele (Keir Howard) hangs around the streets, that is, when he’s not off robbing the Wirral with his Uncle Peter.

From Hafnia to Danka, from Human League to Duran Duran, we watch these youngsters grow-up inYTS-time when women went to bingo while the men lurked around the ale-houses, when religion was still apparent but the biggest sin of all was to show your mother up on the street.

Kearney should be credited for his strength in creating loveable, believable characters as, come the interval, the same handful of people who smiled around the room politely spark conversation about the people they have just met; how they reminded them of themselves or others because of what they said, the music they listened to, the clothes they wore, the places they visited. The experience is enchanting.

Director Steve Miller deserves credit for the imaginative use of a super-small stage space; the play’s second half moves to Windermere and opens with a stimulating sequence of rock-climbing and abseiling.

But when Pele (Julian Wickham) hatches the plan for him and Ben (Stephen Donald) to rob the wealth of

Windermere’s Post Office, sirens begin to ring long before the sound effects kick in and, for a while, it feels as though you’re waiting for the play to catch you up.

The plot is simply all-too-familiar in parts; a talented young man who turns to crime in the desperation of Thatcher’s decade, gets caught and is sent to jail where he is subsequently destroyed by medication. It’s Blood Brothers. There’s no getting away from it. The moving scene where Mrs Harrison (Pearl Marsland) repeatedly visits her deteriorating son in prison is performed brilliantly, and yet you can’t help but see her as a Mrs Johnstone, at this point in the play it seems such a shame to lose focus on the story in hand.

But Kearney's vision of how such a scene should be played differs from his Whiston counterpart Russell. The aforementioned soundtrack of Human League and Duran Duran is joined by the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Boy George. It is all very gay.

Meanwhile, Kearney’s two manly men, the “Fathers”, are both wife beating, dominating drunks, and you get the impression that the young wannabe-artist character of Robbie - whose Big Friendly Giant performance is perfect - is very close to Kearney’s own.

Before long, there is an endearing scene whereby the two Mothers welcome the young Lisa in to their world. She has become one of them. Just as you settle back in to the rhythm of Kearney’s play, it’s over. The cast of nine come out and take their bows, looking once again like towering giants, too big for the stage.

The lesson; don’t brush off the moments of predictability so harshly: the strong, genuine characters manage to pull the play through, making it, on the whole, heart-warming and still extremely enjoyable.

7/10

Windermere runs until Saturday 4th October at the Actors Studio, 36 Seel Street, 7.30pm, tickets £12, £10 concessions, to book call 0151 709 9034

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