Can you believe it’s been six months since the last big Royal Court in house show? So, what better way to come back with a bang than with the return of the biggest success it ever staged. Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels has sold out run after run at the theatre and, with this stint already extended until July 30, is proving a hit all over again.
Critically, there’s very little to say about Brick Up. It’s not going to win Tonys. Its appeal is, quite frankly, a complete curiosity. But it goes down an absolute storm. The audience are audibly engaged and totally along for the ride, and that’s brilliant. It’s just hard to understand why.
The show is the tale of a bunch of working class Liverpudlians who get so fed up with people from Wirral looking down their nose at them despite coming to the city every day to make a living, that suitably riled, they decide to teach them a lesson by cutting off their access – the tunnels.
The cast strain themselves to make this show work, but there’s just not enough to it. Eithne Brown has moments that shine as snooty Wirralian JP Ann Twacky (like it), but the role is just too OTT and not well-written enough. She’s a Hyacinth Bucket/ Thatcher-esque pastiche, of course, but there’s just not enough about these characters to really care. And really – a running gag depending on a woman with a blue rinse referring to her cat as a pussy isn’t exactly a brand new idea. Why Drew Schofield’s Dickie continually tortured the pet for no real reason, we’ll never know, and when the funniest thing that happened all night was Brown accidentally sitting on it, it couldn’t be a good sign. Although, bringing in Schofield and Everyman panto dame Francis Tucker in drag (natch) as her snooty friends Dee Estuary and Liz Card (well done, we’ll give them that one) was probably the highlight of the whole show.
The running joke about the acronym of the Scouser’s terrorist group being the FNL (“effin’ ‘ell!”) party was a good ‘un, and it was fun to hear news bulletins read out by Radio Merseyside’s Roger Phillips.
Suzanne Collins was a ray of sunshine as café owner Maggie, and the fantastic Adam Keast did the best with what he could as the fey love interest from the other side of the water, but through no fault of their own their cringeworthy romantic number was just horrible. Maggie does nothing but sing about looking for a rich bloke, so the subplot of Gerard (Davy Edge) ever thinking he might woo her despite having no chemistry and nothing to offer seemed like a ridiculous thing to hang a great deal of the plot on. Drew Schofield, as ever, held everything together and executed his fart jokes like the pro that he is.
Although it’s fairly likely all concerned can hold a tune, something in the mix sounded quite off and there was too many duff notes, but again, and who knows why, nobody in the audience seemed to mind.
Brick Up is so ridiculously one dimensional, half-baked and full of stupid jokes it’s hard to imagine this is really the original new Scouse play that kick-started the endless parade of similar through the Royal Court doors back in 2006. It could be called an adult panto and that’d be about right, except that panto gives you more to think about.
Perhaps the worst thing about this production is the set. It’s stifling and dull, boxes the actors in and just doesn’t enhance the production in any way. The Wirral house is seemingly exactly the same one used in writer Dave Kirby’s follow up play Lost Soul. The lighting helps no one and the sound seemed far too amplified. It looked cheap.
Oh reader, don’t hate me. It feels churlish to be too harsh on this show given its phenomenal success, but then again, it just never transcends from a very basic level. It is what it is, and is genuine with it. It isn’t cynical, but it definitely isn’t challenging. Good on Nicky Allt and Dave Kirby for writing a show that has been a hit time after time, that keeps getting people out, watching theatre, and brings the money in to keep places like the Royal Court open. Good on them for giving a lot of people a fantastic night out and a big laugh, because somehow, this show absorbs the attention of the audience like little else you could experience. It has a fantastic cast that, as always, gives their all (Tucker and Keast are in the house band when not on stage). And crikey, everyone around us was laughing their socks off, bursting with excitement and giggling to each other how brilliant it was throughout. And that’s all Brick Up needs. The people have definitely spoken.