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THEATRE REVIEW: A Fistful of Collars/ Royal Court, Liverpool

Scouse stereotypes by the well-worn bundle leaves the crowd in creases, writes Philip Key

Published on April 21st 2010.

THEATRE REVIEW: A Fistful of Collars/ Royal Court, Liverpool

MANY people complain about the stereotypical image of Liverpudlians. You know, that they’re crooks, always dreaming up all sorts of scams, rather stupid yet humorous with it.

Then there are times when you think that Liverpudlians have only themselves to blame, almost enjoying the image.

It was a thought that occurred several times when watching this latest Liverpool comedy, A Fistful of Collars, at the Royal Court.

Loud-mouthed assistant Leona (Lindzi Germain) delivers most of the questionable insults, suggesting Heather
Mills prefers her clothes “off the peg”, and,
when spotting Wayne Rooney, declares:
'It’s him or Shrek'

Here we meet a group of Liverpudlians who are either on the fiddle, full-blown gangsters, half-witted or a combination of all three.

Far from being outraged, the home-grown audience lapped it up, laughing and applauding at the same time. They seemed to love it.

The set-up is that two sisters running a dry cleaners have fallen on hard times, the business failing.

But when designer clothes worth hundreds of pounds arrive at the shop, they – with the help of two assistants – come up with a swindle.

Why not hire out the posh clothes to other customers at a fat fee? They will just keep the clothes for longer by telling the real owner they are giving them a speciality clean?

Soon they have created two businesses, a speciality dry cleaners and an “exclusive dress hire” and are raking in £5,000 a week.

To add to the amusement their landlord is a vicious gangster named Curtis (Curtis Jones, in case you were wondering) and Coleen Rooney is the owner of the dresses.

The gangster also has a gorgeous personal assistant and there is a policeman who comes visiting.

It is staged as a British farce with situations spiralling out of control including the policeman losing his trousers and the gorgeous assistant losing her dress.

Okay, perhaps this should not be taken too seriously but writer Fred Lawless, who was commissioned by the theatre to write a comedy from the title alone, does get a little serious when the

gun-wielding Curtis threatens to shoot people in the head. Not stereotypical, of course.

The plot involves Mrs Rooney demanding the return of 66 designer dresses which had mistakenly been sent to the cleaners, and the gangster’s bag, full of money and a gun, being dropped off at the cleaners by accident.

As the dry cleaning people try to disguise the fact that they have damaged a Stella McCartney dress belonging to Coleen – and attempt to hide the bag from Curtis the gangster - matters get a little chaotic.

But let’s see what characters we have on stage. There is dry cleaner owner Eileen played with studied firmness by Eithne Browne, a woman always getting her words wrong (she talks of a shooting as a “fly-past” instead of a “drive-by” and calls a Tuxedo a torpedo).

Sister Pat (Pauline Daniels in commanding form) is the one who comes up with the clothes fiddle and gloats over the money they make, while loud-mouthed assistant Leona (Lindzi Germain) delivers most of the questionable insults suggesting Heather Mills prefers her clothes “off the peg”, and, when spotting Wayne Rooney, declares: “It’s him or Shrek”.

We also have the leggy Suzanne Collins as the gangster’s PA who spends a lot of time unconscious and in her underwear, Alan Stocks as the trouser-less policeman (also unconscious, knocked out like the others by a dry cleaning spray) and Jake Abraham as a particularly nasty Curtis.

Daftest of the lot is gormless assistant Billy (Lenny Wood) who, when asked to deal with the unconscious Sally by putting “a sock in it” and keeping an eye on her, misunderstands and puts a sock in her mouth and ties an iron on her.

Oddest role of all is that of Coleen Rooney, played by Charlotte Harrison, a character who is also unconscious for most of the comedy and draped in a dry cleaning bag for the entire performance.

The second half works better than the first when the farcical elements come more into play, although a curious touch of fantasy, in which the policeman thinks he is an action hero named Brooke Bond, tends to confuse matters.

The production, directed by Bob Eaton, boasts an impressive set framed within a coat hanger complete with presses, dry cleaning tub (into which the policeman disappears in one of the best comedy moments) and lots and lots of dresses.

The front curtain is also an eye-catcher, a projection seeming to suggest that the curtain is unzipped instead of rising.

Writer Fred Lawless – whose previous works at the theatre include Slappers and Slapheads and Merry Ding Dong – says he wrote the comedy for a particular audience, i.e. the rumbustious and comedy-loving Royal Court audience.

No doubt he succeeded in pleasing them and this time there was no bad language. But one wonders if Liverpool does not deserve something better than the well-worn stereotypical path trodden here.


*A Fistful of Collars runs until May 15.

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Professor ChucklebuttyApril 21st 2010.

Me too... oh no I am thinking of Paul Collins from Brookside..ahh the fumes from Petrochem still make me crazy!

DigApril 21st 2010.

Suzanne Collins in her underwear? I'm sold.

AnonymousApril 21st 2010.

My thoughts when seeing the adverts for this play was 'Not another scousers play'. We rightly despise the view everyone seems to have of this city, when it could equally apply to any other, yet seem to revel in it at other times. How much has Carla Lane made out of prolinging the prejudicial views of scousers to further generations?Doubtless, this will be lapped up by the unique audience that the Royal Court attracts. An audience that i'm sure includes people that have never seen a play anywhere else. It remains the only theatre where i've seen altercations in the audience including one serious enough to delay the start of the second act for 10 minutes.As much as I would love the opportunity to admire Suzanne Collins' fabulous legs once more, i could not put myself through this play to do it.Perhaps the Royal Court should give a permanent residency to 'Brick Up'. A play without any meathead characters.

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