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Theatre review: Council Depot Blues/ Royal Court

Philip Key rediscovers 'a great dollop of entertainment' from Liverpool writer Dave Kirby

Published on July 21st 2010.

Theatre review: Council Depot Blues/ Royal Court

IS it a musical? Is it a play? Bird? Plane? No, Council Depot Blues is simply a great dollop of entertainment from Liverpool writer Dave Kirby.

Andrew Schofield reveals himself as a brilliant guitarist... always with a true blues feeling. The vocals, while infused with Kirby’s comedy sense, are also superb

The man who gave us the local comedy Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels and the Liverpool FC film, Fifteen Minutes that Shook the World – “the fastest selling Liverpool FC DVD in history”, also wrote this comedy based on his own experiences working in a council depot.

A self-confessed skiver at the time, his characters are all “workers” who spend their time trying to avoid work.

As some of them have their own blues band, it also allows time for numerous musical interludes.

Kirby’s comedy first went on at the Court in 2008 as part of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture and now it has returned with the same cast, just a little script tweaking, according to Kirby, and looks tighter and funnier than ever.

Of course, humour is a very personal thing and those who don’t like a bit of swearing had better stay away.

In fact, the Court these days has a useful “Can I Bring my Gran-o-meter” guide complete with a photo of a grumpy-looking lady attached to the publicity bills. This carries a four star rating for swearing with “general rudeness” attracting three. So you have been well warned.

In fact, the language fits neatly into the general boisterousness of the comedy about council workers whose job it is to clear houses, emptying properties which tend to be of the disgustingly dirty variety with live rats pretty common.

Naturally the men dream of the day when they can leave the job and, on the day of this story, one of them is doing - Stan who is retiring after 42 years.

If this all sounds a bit grim, Kirkby has a sense of humour which constantly sees the funny side of life and which allows the play to proceed with a laugh a line.

The cast have also worked on their characters so well that each stands out as a rounded individual.

There is, for example, Danny who complains all the time; Stan counting down his retirement by the hours, minutes and seconds; gay JoJo who constantly makes suggestive comments and wears spectacles collected from the houses; Norman the worker from Formby who leaves home in a suit in fear of his neighbours discovering his real job, and Harry the foreman looking for a managerial job who is nevertheless unable to control his fellow workers.

These and others may be over-written comedy characters but all are recognisable types.

The slight story – which does not really get going until the second half - revolves around the discovery in the house of an expensive Gibson mandolin (worth, apparently £150,000) and the attempts by the various workers to get their hands on it.

While that gives it some narrative thrust, Kirby’s main aim is to look at the poor blighters working for the council who see their lives passing them by. Yes, there is a little sadness here, too.

But what makes it all worthwhile, it must be said, is not just the numerous jokes and comedy situations, but the blues music, most of it written by Kirby.

Certainly Andrew Schofield, as Danny, reveals himself as a brilliant guitarist, both as a soloist and in a group situation, but always with a true blues feeling. The vocals, while infused with Kirby’s comedy sense, are also superb.

Jake Abraham’s Fitzy delivers excellent brushwork on the drums, Roy Brandon’s JoJo wails meaningfully on the sax while Howard Gray as the Shakespeare-quoting Norman plays great piano.

Also on hand adding to the fun are Shaun Mason as a young Scally Shorty (who does a marvellous rap at one point), Paul Broughton playing the slightly manic foreman Harry, Phil Hearne as the departing Stan who has his own catchphrase, “I blame Thatcher!”, and Lindzi Germain as a loudmouth neighbour.

Within all the comedy, Kirby does slip in some acute social observations: these are men all living lives of quiet desperation, whether it is unhappiness with the job, a quest for financial security, desires for promotion, unhappy home life (“I am married to Himmler!”) or simply a wish to score with a female colleague.

Directed at a suitably fast lick by Bob Eaton and with an excellent revolving set from Billy Meall, Council Depot Blues is a musical, a comedy, a social satire and a bloody good night out. Just don’t take your gran.


*Council Depot Blues runs at the Royal Court until August 7.

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