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Theatre Review: Eric's – The Musical

Liz Lacey delivers a herogram after the much-anticipated Everyman show

Published on September 27th 2008.

Theatre Review: Eric's – The Musical

A LONG time ago..On a galaxy far away, but quite near here, there was a tiny, sweaty planet in Mathew Street. It was called Eric’s. The natives were sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, but always, er..stimulating.

Eric’s Club, set up by Ken Testi, Pete Fulwell, and the late Roger Eagle, was, along with CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City in New York, one of the most influential places in the history of popular music. And, for 2008, Mark Davies Markham has taken the setting and characters of Eric’s and what it meant to him in his own struggle for survival, and turned it into a musical. And what extraordinary music! Songs from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, The Clash, Elvis Costello... a mixture of fine local produce and classic glam/punk/rock icons from all over the shop.

I have a confession. I went for the first night, having interviewed its writer, Mark Davies Markham, and heard how he came to write it. I knew what a valiant personal battle he had fought to still be here; a story which forms the dramatic centre of the piece. I desperately wanted it to be good. I had been in Mark’s first play, a million light years ago, seen Taboo, and the Liverpool Nativity. I knew, I thought, what he could do. And what he could do was good. But this was extra daring; it involved real living people: a time and place that everyone still had an opinion about. And for those outside the city and unfamiliar with Eric’s, why would they care?

So it is a huge relief and a pleasure to say, unequivocally, that Eric’s The Musical is ..tremendous.

All good musicals have a strong story. Lately there has been a plague of “musical-lite”, shows that loosely string together some hit tunes and insert them fumblingly into a plot that a four-year-old would find flimsy in comparison with, say, “Three Little Pigs”.

This is another thing entirely. From the opening number, Deaf School’s What A Way To End it All, where we first meet Joe, our hero, writhing and trapped in a hospital bed, to the return there for the finale number, Pete Wylie's anthem Heart as Big As Liverpool..(flawlessly delivered) the whole thing rocks, as I believe young people say now.

The story shifts, sometimes episodically and sometimes like a morphine-fuelled dream, between the young Joe’s rites-of-passage in Bootle, Eric’s, the club

that gave him his creative inspiration, and the medical battlefield where the 37-year-old fights for his life.

Markham brings to life a real Liverpool working class family, his own, without the terrible, mawkish stereotypes, but with the warmth, vulgarity, and quick wittedness (something that I have seen attempted many times but which rarely succeeds). He also portrays a cast of tumbling, Situationist musical eccentrics who were the alumni of Eric’s throughout its short, colourful life. Jayne Casey, Ian McCulloch, Holly Johnson, Pete Burns, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie, and the enigmatic everyman “Boxhead”(whose real name was a waste of a christening)…how do you do that little lot justice without having to spend the rest of your life in hiding?

What Markham has done, and done supremely well, is to cartoon them without lampooning them. The Julian Cope character, played marvellously by Oliver Jackson, is a goofy, posh, idiot savant.

Anyone familiar with Cope or his work knows that there is more to him than that, but the point is that it is the reaction to him by the others, the sardonic, faintly puzzled acceptance of a different brand of outsider freak, which makes the broad interpretation affectionate. It is also hilarious.

And when the cast are as impressively skilled as this young lot are, the approach pays off. It is funny too: pointed one-liners are scattered as liberally as rice at Phil Redmond’s “scouse wedding”.

More than this, though, it appeals to the heart. The musical arrangement by Alan Williams is superb. The songs move the action along, make clear emotional sense and are reprised and mingled to tremendous effect. Rescue one of the Bunnymen’s more operatic moments, fits exactly into its moment, as does the ominous The Cutter. The Great Dominions by Julian Cope, makes as much sense as it’s ever going to as a poignant duet.

Bizarre, spellbinding, witty, emotionally raw. Eric’s The Musical is, for me, the theatrical sensation of 2008.

Because it is about universal themes, it will travel, I think, far outside the city walls. And it deserves to. 9/10

Eric's – the Musical runs until October 11.
Hope Street,
Box office: 0151-709 4776

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

London RoadSeptember 25th 2008.

what does spizzenergi think? Is he still around?

Mr DunnySeptember 25th 2008.

Saw it last night, it was excellent I was in the same row as the Liverpool born actor Ian Hart and his pork pie hit. Hope this goes on to be a mega sucess.

Liverpool WagSeptember 25th 2008.

The Naughty Lumps are all doing porridge

Stanley StreetSeptember 25th 2008.

I remember seeing a couple of chubby blokes with 'taches wearing black polo necks with three carousel slide projectors and a couple of tape recorders resting on a ton of Dexion shelving called 'The Human League'. Whatever happened to them?

V. I. Lenin AirportSeptember 25th 2008.

I'm sure the black contact lenses came later, c. 1983 when he was a regular at the Everyman Bistro. Sometime in about 1978 I saw him and Paul Rutherford (who usually dressed a matador at that time) drinking at the window table of the jukebox room (before the furniture was removed and he window boarded up) in The Casablanca.I didn't want to sound sexist but the actress is a lot more attractive than Jayne Casey was. Despite her petite frame I was terrified of her at the time - she pre-dated punk with her black lipstick and nail polish, hair cropped into a chessboard pattern, shaved-off eyebrows and bizarre shop in Aunt Twacky's that sold old wedding dresses, tailcoats and top hats. Very conservative and parochial of me I know, but I was naïvely barely out of school, working class and wearing denim flares. She was like a German Expressionist film intruding onto reality.

punksnotdeadSeptember 25th 2008.

How good was that? Wish I'd got a programme :-(Ha! I've just deleted a really long passage about the place the play and the characters.Anyway I remember Eric's and I loved it, a great little bit of time travel.

Stanley StreetSeptember 25th 2008.

Yes. The chastened NME took on Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, whereas Sounds took on Garry Bushell...

Mary LandstreetSeptember 25th 2008.

Spizz wasn't a local lad was he? He had a look-alike that lived in Entwistle Heights and went to Kirklands' Baltimore Room disco dressed as a tennis player, complete with racquet. Anyway, he was 'Spizz Oil' in 1977 wasn't he?

Salad DazeSeptember 25th 2008.

Ah! Deaf School! What memories. And what happened to the Naughty Lumps? Did they all open restaurants?

Tricky WooSeptember 25th 2008.

The cast look a lot cleaner than the real life characters they are portraying. Why didn't the Jayne Casey character be given the trademark bleached "number one" which was the style at the time? Still I guess you had to be there.And yes, like Pete Price, Pete Burns was a Wirral ladda. And why didn't his character have black contact lenses in?

spizzenergi.comSeptember 25th 2008.

I have many fond memories of my shows at Eric's and can't wait for an opportunity (or invitation from a Liverpool promoter) to return and play a gig in the city again ;-). I Love Pete Wylie's funeral song about Thatcher and if you want to come to London on October 16th 2008... SPIZZENERGI are playing Inn On The Green -where I last saw Pete playoing with Mick Jones's new band Carbon/Silicon

Electric EelSeptember 25th 2008.

Dead Trout were ace.

SoundsSeptember 25th 2008.

went down the pan in 1979-80.

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