“The people of Liverpool, and the Liverpool People’s Party, invite the Prime Minister to mind his own business. Here in Liverpool, we’re nearer to space than we are to London. London is 200 miles away; space is only 100 miles away. People here pay as much heed to the Prime Minister as we do to the man in the moon…”
The first of the festive season’s long runs begins tonight with the opening of Scouse: A Comedy of Terrors – the biggest production yet from the Lantern Theatre gang since the much-loved fringe venue closed earlier in the year.
The show is the revival of a black comedy that was first performed at the Playhouse Studio in 1997.
Scouse: A Comedy Of Terrors tells the story of the Liverpool People’s Party and its calls for Liverpool to be recognised as an independent republic – by the UN, the EU, NATO and UEFA, no less, but the UK government objects and sends in the army. How many of those organisations will still feasibly exist far into 2017 remains to be seen, but that’s something writer Andrew Cullen could never have visualised even in a dystopian comedy context – although we’re assured all 90s references have been brought up to date.
The play follows Tom, Kath and their children Susan and Ben through the bid for independence and the battle and tragedy that follows. The cast of ten – all local talent, including James McMartin, who appeared in the original production – play more than 30 characters.
Peter Washington and Jackie Jones play Tom and Kath.
“The play is actually getting more relevant every day,” says Peter. “I don’t think [Andrew Cullen] realised what he was writing at the time. It is a really clever bit of writing.”
Jackie says: “It’s definitely a comedy, but it’s dark, it takes the audience to places you wouldn’t expect to go. But it’s very, very funny – and that dark humour does come through in any kind of revolution or change, when people are in dire situations.”
Peter began acting when he joined the Playhouse Youth Theatre alongside the likes of Gillian Kearney and Scot Williams in the mid-90s. He returns to the Liverpool stage after 20 years performing in West End and touring productions of Blood Brothers.
Both are impressed and enthused by the opportunities of Scouse – from the venue (bringing the Renshaw Street Dome into use again), to its determination for fringe talent in the city to shine through. And it might sound as if there’s a bit of Brick Up knockabout broad humour about Scouse: A Comedy of Terrors, but it seems there’s a lot more substance to the piece than what is already on offer in town.
“It’s got a very clear message and it’s very relevant to the times we live in. I can’t believe this play has been lying dusty on a shelf for so long,” says Peter. “For me, coming back to the city, it’s been really interesting for me to see the theatre scene in Liverpool now. There was never the opportunity for actors to get to put on work 20 years ago.”
Lantern Theatre Productions now sees director Margaret Connell and daughter and son Siobhan Noble and Mike Connell staging pop-up, site specific theatre rather than finding an permanent replacement space for their Blundell Street venue, which was snapped up by developers in July.
It’s easy to guess that the four week run of Scouse might be the biggest thing they have ever staged – but certainly they have a lot of support.
Jackie says: “There was really only the Lantern doing what it was doing, allowing smaller companies to stage their shows. And when it went, there was a bit of a panic – not only was it sad to see the end of a local business, but it meant the loss of a local venue to put our own stuff on. It was family run, and anyone involved there got to know them on a personal level. But what they are doing now is a really brave move, and it’s important to do as best as we can to make it a success.”
Lantern Productions Margaret Connell adds: “Scouse: A Comedy Of Terrors was one of the very first strong Liverpool theatre comedy productions, which went on to pave the way and inspire the many of the excellent shows we see today at the vast choice of theatres our city is proud to play home to – and we really believe our production is set to become one of the most exciting, funny and emotional pieces of immersive theatre the city has seen.”
Scouse: A Comedy of Terrors is on at the Dome from November 17 to December 15. For more information see the dedicated website here.