Theatre Review: Helen Forrester’s By The Waters Of Liverpool, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: Visit Liverpool

Written By: June O’Rourke

Format: Play
Genre: Drama
Date: October 3 2018
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Liverpool’s Empire Theatre is a fitting location for the first stage adaptation of By The Waters Of Liverpool as it first opened in the 1920s. Its interior lends itself well to the play’s historical context. Based on the memoirs of Helen Forrester, the play rattles along, covering a substantial plot and the stage set works well as a flexible set of spaces with actors flowing from one space to another.

The adaptation by Rob Fennah is ambitious, attempting to stay true to the book it is based on, using a technique called story theatre.

On arrival at the theatre, we were greeted by a small Salvation Army brass band playing outside, evoking the era that the play is set in.

Maria Lovelady plays the lead part of Helen, a role she also played in the earlier play Twopence To Cross The Mersey (which you can read a review of by clicking here). The opening scene, echoed in the closing scene, contains some beautiful writing, poetic and eloquent, about people meeting under the clock at Lime Street Station.

There are some lovely scenes in this play, but the use of story theatre didn’t serve the play well. Where we should have had strong empathy for the plight of the characters, the use of third-person narrative by characters talking about themselves created a distance that left us in the audience feeling detached from what was going on.

The cast worked hard through the play, most of them playing at least half a dozen parts. Some of the characters were lovely comic depictions. If you loved the books, you will love this adaptation, but for us, the play didn’t really work. There were so many cringeable moments, and where one should have been drawn into the emotional plight of the characters, particularly of Helen, one was left feeling distant and detached.

Overall, there was a lot to like about By The Waters Of Liverpool, but its flaws made the show feel like a missed opportunity.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable