Swan Song Review – Bombed Out Church, Liverpool

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Swan Song

The final of twelve performances staged in the grounds of St. Luke’s Bombed Out Church in Liverpool, produced by Liverpool Theatre Festival in association with Bill Elms Productions and Quarry Street, did not disappoint. Jonathan Harvey’s Swan Song, directed by Noreen Kershaw, had a socially-distanced audience tittering away to Dave Titswell’s mostly good-intentioned yet insensitive comments towards staff and students alike.


Experienced teacher Dave Titswell (Andrew Lancel) arrives at work to find his classroom has been moved to the top floor. An inconvenience for smoker Dave who is less than pleased. However, Dave’s dissatisfaction with his work life is fixed far beyond having to walk the stairs. A failing education system hit by austerity and in turn challenging students have created a team of stressed, shouty staff who fear inspection. Dave has a crush on colleague Ed and is taken aback when Ed asks Dave to the Lake District. After recovering from the initial shock, Dave realises he has misunderstood and in actuality their romantic break is in fact a school trip. Whilst on the trip, Dave walks by the lake and hears a swan singing what sounds to him like Big Yellow Taxi. Is Dave fast approaching his own swan song or will he make the cut?


Heads bobbed along to Faithless’ Insomnia as the comedy opened to disco lights circling an unoccupied chair and desk. Dave Titswell confidently enters and begins to inform the audience on the rules of teaching. As much as the audience laughed with Dave, who prides himself on being able to crack a joke in spite of trauma, we longed to see his career succeed and for him to find love. Dave’s recounting of issues between Ed and his wife gives depth to the emotional landscape of the piece. Andrew Lancel gave an impressive performance as he did not falter through 75 minutes of almost continuous dialogue. There was a spontaneous moment when one audience member’s dog barked, to which Lancel ad-libbed “sit!” while totally in character.


After the run of Jonathan Harvey’s Our Lady of Blundellsands was sadly cut short earlier this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Harvey’s specially-adapted Swan Song was extremely fitting to mark what all of us hope to be the return of theatre in Liverpool. The city wishes Dave Titswell all the best for the future and hopes he will soon find the courage to send his Ken Barlow fan mail.