Down the Dock Road is a revival of an early Alan Bleasdale, dusted out of the vaults to mark its 40th anniversary. Where does the time go? Premiered in the Playhouse Studio back in the day, Bleasdale of course went on to be one of Liverpool’s – and the UK’s – leading dramatists, famous for Boys from the Blackstuff among many others.
This large-scale production marks the changes to bring a little serious drama to the spruced-up Royal Court, which is looking better than ever following its swish refurb, creating some exciting new spaces and classy new exterior. It also brings back Les Dennis to the theatre’s stage for the first time since 2012 (with the one-man play Jigsy) – in fact it was his idea that got the ball rolling for the revival in the first place.
Down the Dock Road was inspired by the playwright’s own experiences as a security guard on Birkenhead Docks as a student, and as such features a strong ensemble cast to illustrate all the cameraderie and conflicts of this well-observed microcosm. Dennis is Grandad, the old timer marking his last shift before retirement; Andrew Schofield’s alpha male McKenna leads the fray and hatches schemes; and Derek Barr impresses as the brooding turncoat Guy Fawkes. Paul Duckworth is not his usual scene-stealing self as the Ken Barlow-esque Mastermind – that’s left to the currently ubiquitous Daniel Taylor as wannabe entertainer Mickey.
As the dockers hatch dodgy schemes and the authorities clamp down, personal scores need to be settled too. Bleasedale’s dialogue is as good and convincing as it has always been; the script is peppered with niche geographical references, an attention to detail that was always bound to work well in the Royal Court. The play itself meanders, especially in the first half, and takes too long to set the scene. But there’s a human touch to Down the Dock Road and an insight and catharsis that gives more than a nod to Arthur Miller’s New York longshoremen.