Bright Phoenix is a new in-house production, written for the Everyman stage by acclaimed friend of the theatre, Jeff Young. The story of a misfit gang of kids grown into a misfit gang of adults, the play explores the hidden places and people of the city and is described as “a love letter to Liverpool”.
In the present day, the various characters flit in and out of the old abandoned Futurist cinema on Lime Street, drawn to an old childhood haunt and driven to reclaim somewhere the suits of the Culture Company cannot touch. Lucas (Paul Duckworth) is the wanderer returning, the old ringleader compelled to revisit the past. His old girlfriend Lizzie (Penny Layden) is leading the operation to bring the Futurist back to life, stealing the power from the lap dancing club next door as a form of protest. One-eyed Spike (Rhodri Mellir) hasn’t got a pot to pee in and sees it as a bonus if he doesn’t freeze to death overnight, and cross-dressing Stephen (Mark Rice-Oxley) sings to the rooftops of the city.
The fate of their friend and brother Alan ‘Icarus’ (Carl Au, pictured) looms large, Lizzie’s son Callum (Keiran Urquart, a member of Young Everyman and Playhouse) is there to show how times have changed. The eminently watchable Cathy Tyson, as bag lady Elsie, does plenty with a small role, Rhian Green steals some of the plays funniest lines as a variety of characters billed as ‘the entire population of Lime Street’, and musicians Laura J Martin and Vidar Norheim provide an in turn poignant and lively soundtrack.
The ‘underclass against the world’ spirit of Bright Phoenix comes a bit too hot on the heels of the Ev’s last new production, Dead Dog in a Suitcase, which it quite closely resembles in theme and that anarchic style. But Ti Green’s design provides plenty of visual surprises and lovely touches. The determination to over-localise the text makes the play disappointingly insular and self-satisfied in parts – this is a real Liverpool play that would probably struggle to reveal its secrets in any other place. Maybe that is the point, but still. The gang represent the kind of people Young believes are ignored in today’s business-friendly, image-conscious, tourism hot-spot Liverpool; the folk that go unnoticed as the ‘Scouserati’ make a name for themselves.
Director Sedar Billis leaves the audience with some memorable vignettes as the ‘hidden places’ of the city come to life, and these are the elements that bring out the best of the piece. Mark Rice-Oxley’s torch song as the ensemble slowly dance below brings an almost Twin-Peaks style surreal touch; a flashback to the gang as children, each making themselves a part of an aircraft that takes flight before breaking up mid-air is inventive and creative; and Elsie’s big moment is a joy.