Written By: Mark Armstrong
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: February 7 2018
Location: Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool
I was unfamiliar with the story of Her Benny (currently celebrating its 25th anniversary), but I had heard great things about the show, and about the author Ann Dalton. It began with the Waterfront in Liverpool as the backdrop, to a rather overcrowded array of characters: all singing, all dancing, giving us the impression of a chaotic feeling in the area at the time.
Neil and Benny, who were brother and sister, are begging and carrying luggage for people going to and from the Dock. They have rags for clothes, and generally look very dirty and unkempt. They also have an alcoholic father and a nasty stepmother (Lindzi Germain, who was loud and rough as per her unique style!). The kids have to give their earnings to their father, otherwise they get a beating. Fortunately, they get to meet a wonderful, friendly night-watchman in Joe, along with his wife Sally. They begin as a retired married couple, who have lost interest in one another. (Incidentally, both Joe and Sally are outstanding singers.)
When Neil and Benny’s father dies, Joe and Sally take over looking after the children, but sadly, Neil’s health is not good. Joe and Sally’s relationship improves, though, as they become happy living with the children. Meanwhile, Benny meets a young rich girl whilst begging, and she asks her father to give him a job. All goes well until he’s accused of stealing, a crime that he did not commit. Nevertheless, he runs away, which breaks Joe’s and Sally’s hearts.
Towards the end, Benny returns and is reunited with Joe, Sally and the young rich girl. Tragically, though, Neil dies, and this affects all three people that have been left behind.
Throughout the story, the “street” characters play a part in reminding the audience how it was back then. There are outstanding performances throughout, especially from Sniffer, a girl who befriends the kids and who also provides a comedy element. There are welcome comedic scenes towards the end too with the parlour maids. The singing and dancing ensemble scenes reminded me a lot of “Oliver!”, though I felt that there were too many people on the stage at times.
I found it difficult to understand some of the song lyrics, with the diction not always being clear, and the music was very loud, overly so at times. However, the authenticity was very good, with examples being the Rag and Bone Man (not that one) with a hand-cart, a black fire grate and a gas light.
All in all, this is a pleasant, if slightly long performance. It was very well-acted, and the children performed extremely well and very professionally. The scene where Neil passes away is particularly a very emotional scene.
Summarising, Her Benny may not be to everybody’s tastes, but for those who do enjoy productions such as this, you will come away feeling that you have watched a very special show.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent