By The Waters of Liverpool

“One for fans of Forrester's novels”.

Based on Helen Forrester’s autobiographical novel of the same name, ‘By The Waters Of Liverpool’ is set in the 1930s, during the Great Depression- just after the great Wall Street crash. Britain is on the verge of war and a young southern girl, Helen, is longing for a life better than that which she is living. Penniless, lonely, and a slave to her family’s every whim, slowly, she begins a bitter fight against the cards that life has dealt her and strives to forge a more fulfilling existence. Worse still, at twenty years old, she’s never been kissed- until she meets a tall, strong seaman and falls in love. 

Although set some 80+ years ago, the strains of that time echoed somewhat too familiarly around the The Auditorium at the M&S Bank Arena this evening. A venue which, frankly, drowned this humble production. We’re painfully reminded of the current economic climate, with the threat of war looming eerily around every corner throughout. What once may have been a night of theatrical escapism to a moment in history felt like a stark parallel to life as we know it today. 

Our lead character, Helen, (portrayed by Emma Mulligan) barely leaves the stage. However, given the sheer volume of stage time, the delivery was very two dimensional. Believe me when I say that I wanted to root for this character as our lead protagonist, but I was left with very little emotional connection with her. 

At this point, it would have been easy for this production to completely unravel, however, we were treated to some stand-out performances. Emmerdale’s Joe Gill strongly adopted multiple roles and encapsulated these with sustained, solid regional accents and an unwavering stage-presence. Props must also go to the often scene-stealing Lynne Fitzgerald (also sporting multiple roles) who gave us the highlight of the evening with her larger than life, Scouse turn as beautician, hairdresser and ‘under-the-table’ money-maker, Betty. Laughs reverberated around the auditorium during our time spent in her salon and her comic timing was applaudable. Lynn Francis and Tom Roberts (playing Helen’s mother and father, respectively) were also solid in their roles and derived a decent amount of light and shade from what was, unfortunately, an often-monotone book. 

Richard Foxton’s well-worn set stood rigidly on the large auditorium stage and lacked some of the production value and functionality that such a vast performance space required. Simple lighting design by Ian Scott produced some effective moments, although there was a particularly jarring scene where we were seemingly transported from a 30s dance to a 70s disco, complete with flashing, block-coloured panel lights.

Did the audience seem to enjoy it? Mostly. Did fans of the book get a buzz from experiencing their old favourite characters live on stage? Most probably. However, as a theatre show, the entertainment factor was lacking throughout, and I had to conclude that this was purely for the fans of the book series rather than an enthusiast of live theatre. 

This show was reviewed on the 6th September 2023 at The Auditorium, M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool.  Full tour details here: By The Waters Of Liverpool - The Stage Play

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Anthony Robling

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