Theatre Review: Son Of A Preacher Man, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Drama
Date: July 3 2018
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Son Of A Preacher Man concludes its inaugural tour at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. The first night had the unfortunate circumstance of coinciding with England’s latest World Cup tie against Colombia, which undoubtedly impacted attendance and also audience investment. That aside, the show was still able to hold one’s attention, though there were a number of issues which prevented it from being a must-see, even on a night when there is no football.

The story sees three characters from very different backgrounds, who all have specific reasons for coming to London and wishing to visit – yes! – the son of a preacher man; the since-passed preacher had a way of helping the public with any issues emotionally affecting their lives, hence why they all hoped to seek out his advice. Failing that, they convince his son Simon (Nigel Richards), a restaurant owner by trade, to fill his dad’s shoes and attempt to assist the trio with their various problems.

All three plot strands revolve around love. Paul (Michael Howe) met a local man back in the 1960s and still can’t stop thinking about him; Alison (Michelle Gayle) has developed feelings for an A-Level student who she is mentoring after studies; and Kat (Alice Barlow) is obsessed with a guy she has spotted on an online dating site. As chance would have it, a bit of research alongside some chats to his late father reveal that all three “targets” will be on hand at a singles party held by Match-Me (not Match.com).

However, some misjudged interactions alongside bad luck means that Paul, Alison and Kat end up further away from achieving their goals than when they started. They blame Simon (somewhat unfairly, in my view), and this understandably makes him wish to concentrate solely on his own business again. But Simon’s kind, caring nature means that he tries his best to make things right for everyone. That being said, a number of twists not only raises the question of whether the trio will achieve what they want, but also what their happy endings would actually be.

The performances are very good by the leading cast, with the more versatile and relatable Simon being the standout character. I should also give mention to the eye-catching, sometimes wacky dance routines by the Cappuccino Sisters group (Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong). The settings are well-designed with some cool lighting displays and brightly-coloured window panes for transitional scenes. At around 2 hours 15 minutes including an interval, the show didn’t outstay its welcome by any means. And as the name implies, a fair few 60s hits provide the soundtrack for this show including Anyone Who Had A Heart, The Look Of Love and, of course, Son Of A Preacher Man.

There were several flaws though, as I alluded to in the opening paragraph. For starters, anyone expecting the show to actually be about Dusty Springfield, aside from the odd reference, will be disappointed; the music seems to be there to give the show a boost, rather than tying in with the story (the title song aside). What’s more, though there was the occasional use of comedy, the tone felt a bit – well – meh at times. The situations involving each character were serious enough to justify the production being a drama, but there needed to be more oomph, more welly, something for people to really remember when all was said and done. A random chicken dance aside (you read that right), it’s hard to think of something that stood out when you discount the music.

The biggest issue, though, concerned the writing. Even if we apply a little creative licence, some situations seemed to be a little far-fetched, stretching one’s suspension of disbelief too far, and though the premise of the show is to see whether Paul, Alison and Kat complete their goals, it is hard to actually define them as being likeable, especially Kat’s character (and I must point out that Alice Barlow performed really well, but being cast as a spoiled young girl, it created a number of cringeworthy moments during her scenes). Paul and Alison cause fewer issues in this regard, but during the scene where everybody blames Simon for their woes, it becomes difficult to sympathise with anybody besides him. Ultimately, it’s Simon who shines in the most positive light and rightfully so, but even when considering that nobody is perfect, some minor tweaks to the script could have made it easier for the crowd to care about the wandering trio (for lack of a better term) and to actually hope that they achieve resolution to their problems.

Son Of A Preacher Man is entertaining and has its moments, and it’s decent enough to warrant a viewing, but there are clear issues on display which prevent this from being a show to truly remember. Next time it comes to Liverpool, it won’t have the problem of going up against a huge England match, but it requires a few fixes to become a production that would make it highly recommended.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable