There are lots of very good things about The Royal, which has been a huge word-of-mouth success for the Royal Court. Returning to the theatre after its premiere run last year, the madcap Scouse play tells the story of a bunch of misfits trapped in the Royal Liverpool Hospital as the old building – a landmark most everybody in the city knows inside and out – is literally about to be demolished.
It’s a strong comedy with a warm heart that strives to entertain every last audience member – and ramps things up to eleven with some spectacular stagecraft as the wrecking ball starts to swing.
The Royal is written by its stars Angela Simms and Linzi Germain, who have terrific chemistry and complement each other well. Both familiar faces on the Royal Court’s stage now, they know how to work both the performance space and the crowd, giving them big laughs, loveable characters, a bit of cabaret, and enough local references to keep raising the cheers.
Germain’s stock in brassy matriarchs with a heart of gold underneath serves her well here as Theresa, the veteran tea lady who doesn’t want to leave her beloved hospital. Simms plays Holby City-obsessed nurse Flo.
Some sterling work from Alan Stocks as a disgruntled patient, and the always quietly impressive Danny O’Brien in a charmingly meta turn as a bad actor playing a contractor, keeps the slapstick action moving at pace as the impressive set starts to crumble around them.
There are however some elements of the play that could be seen to cross the line from black humour into rather poor taste, namely the character of Mo the mortician, whose strange, sexually aggressive demeanour seemed at its worst to be playing a learning disability for laughs. Although this is unlikely to have been intentional it was nevertheless distracting; same too for the (literal) toilet humour, a fallback device which was a bit too puerile in the end.
But still. The Royal is a high-octane comedy romp, a quality theatrical spectacle that does well to incorporate some timely nostalgia to pull at the heartstrings of an audience as familiar with the corridors of the real hospital as Theresa and Flo themselves. It is a love letter to a changing place, marking the end of an era in an inimitable Scouse style – and ending with a knees up, natch.