Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: August 22 2018
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
Grand Old Lady is the much-anticipated play based on the history of Everton Football Club, and it has finally made its debut at the Epstein Theatre.
With great protests taking place during a corporate radio interview amidst the news of Everton’s big future stadium move to Bramley Dock, two particularly fanatic Evertonians – Jamie and Robbo – decide to make a new home, so to speak, in one of the most famous Toffee-related landmarks, Prince Rupert’s Tower. This building represents Everton’s major history, and so it’s a fitting environment in their minds to serve as hostages, so to speak, until their demand for the club to remain at Goodison Park is met.
In the meantime, they are visited by a number of ghostly creatures taking the form of key figures in Everton’s history, from Prince Rupert himself to Dixie Dean to Bessie Braddock to one of the famous Toffee Girls. All involved help to tell the story of EFC, occasionally accompanied by video footage and the odd musical number, as well as attempting to convince Jamie and Robbo that a stadium move will have the greatest chance of prolonging and enhancing the club’s legacy that had previously been built at their existing ground.
The tone was comedic for most of the evening, aside from a couple of moments where the mood shifts to reflect the seriousness and emotion of the moment, none more so than the show’s tribute to the Hillsborough victims through a perfect rendition of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (the song chosen by Bill Kenwright to mark the landmark release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report in 2012). Much of the comedy is based on one-liners and clever mentions of both Everton-related events (Robbo at one point says that he will only come out if the club apologise for Michael Keane, which drew a big laugh) and the team on the other side of Stanley Park (there was one particular not-so-subtle reference to a certain spectacle-wearing manager shortly into the second half).
I definitely found that the second half was better than the first half from an entertainment standpoint, though I felt that the show would have benefitted from more classic footage (the most recent clips shown were from 1991), and the side-plot of Jimmy and Robbo searching for gold, which appeared to be a primary part of the story, received less time and focus than I had expected, which prevented it from potentially opening the door for increased comedy material. That being said, there are plenty of laughs to be found, and the key periods from Everton’s history (as well as an amusing recap of recent Everton developments) are covered. Add to that a convincing cast and a suitable running time of two hours, and it makes for a fun night at the theatre.
A Grand Old Lady should definitely bring a smile to the faces of all Evertonians who come to see it, and so I recommend it for any fans of the Toffees.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good