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Maggie May: Finborough Theatre

April 10, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 7th April 2019)

Last year it was the turn of Lionel Bart’s “Twang” to get an uproarious revival on the London fringe. This time, the more successful “Maggie May” (Adelphi Theatre, 1964 as the programme reminds us) is given a thoughtful outing in the even smaller Finborough auditorium.

Liverpool in the early 1960s was a cauldron of Union rules and religious beliefs, a mixture of poverty and humour, quick-witted creativity and most of all a quest for doing what was right under the toughest circumstances.

Bart and Owen give us the tale of prostitute Maggie May (Kara Lily Hayworth) and childhood friend Patrick Casey (James Darch). Her father was a drunken low-life, his a dockyard Union leader who died too soon. She ekes a living off the streets, he tries to become a docker like his father. The story is of refusing to handle guns destined to kill fellow stevedores in distant lands, and of a woman loving a man who is having his heart and soul torn apart.

No real Bart classic songs in this score, though several will be half remembered, including “D’Land of Promises” and even “Dey Don’t Do Dat T’Day.” Others land simply thanks to performance – “The World’s A Lovely Place” to name just one.

Truthfully, the book no longer hangs together, and the monkey was slightly confused by the motivation that lead to the ending. It’s a major flaw, but not sufficient to upset the entire show.

Sam Spencer Lane (choreographer) fills the tiny stage with dance routines far more vibrant than witnessed recently by the monkey at one horrible “West End” production. Dance Captain Michael Nelson ensures execution, though perhaps needs to work with a couple of the cast to ensure safety with their lifting technique. Matthew Iliffe (director) too has a command of the material and use of the traverse stage that allows the actors to engage fully with the entire audience at all times… a little too fully with the popcorn, please note, Mr Iliffe – picking it out of the coat for hours…

It’s a lively cast. Fresh from her triumph as Cilla, Kara Lily Hayworth takes on another Liverpool icon with gusto. A strong musical theatre actor, her voice perhaps sometimes yielding to the piano (Henry Brennan, the impressive sole accompanist) but retaining our sympathy to the end.

With James Darch, there’s an incredibly strong bond, and Darch inexhaustibly gives us a multiple layers from detached committed activist to vulnerable youngster – moving at will between them as required.

Old Dooley (David Keller) is equally impactful. What could have been a montone “elder” performance instead has a truth and depth that calibrates the younger actors’ present and future within the story. Likewise Mark Pearce (Willie Morgan) demonstrates where perhaps some of them could go. Opportunist, exploiting and using where he came from in order to forget – it’s strong work. A note too for his “neice” (Chloe Carrington) establishing herself to an entire room with mere body-language in both this and other ensemble roles.

Both Norah Mulqueen (Cathy McManamon) and Maggie’s friend Maureen O’Neilll (Natalie Williams – the “Moore” appears to have vanished since “Ballroom”) likewise make maximum impact in a short time. McManamon simply is a Northern Publican, while Williams has a wonderfully clear, strong voice, characterisation and stage presence to match.

The men in the ensemble fair well too. “D’Same Size Boots” is a riot of hat and coat swapping and excellent timing from Eric, T.C and Gene (Euan Bennet, Barnaby Taylor and Leon Kay) who also retain a balanced masculinity in their dock-working – not falling over an edge when the songs suggest they could. Augmented by Joshua Barton in the big protest scene “Union Cha-Cha” there is much good work done. Balladeer and Milkman Aaron Kavanagh too is sound in leading the opening to both acts in soulful voice.

That the Finborough is committed to bringing us these forgotten shows and stage them to a high standard is alone worthy of anyone’s time. Even where, as here, the material has faired less well, there is still much to enjoy.

 

3 stars (5 for the cast and creative team, though).

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