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Theatre review: Merry Ding Dong/ Royal Court

Philip Key has been busy this week, as this Ding Dong rings lots of familiar bells

Published on December 18th 2009.

Theatre review: Merry Ding Dong/ Royal Court

COMMISSIONED plays in the commercial theatre are a rarity so let’s first salute the brave decision of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre to do just that.

I do despair at the success of this sort of writing which uses stereotypes for easy targets and an excess of language that would make D.H.Lawrence blush

The man they asked to write a Christmas show was Fred Lawless, a bloke whose work includes scripts for EastEnders and Crossroads and who wrote a fairly successful comedy for the Royal Court, Slappers and Slapheads.

Merry Ding Dong, the show he spent several months writing for the Court, is likely to be another hit judging by the audience response when I was there.

Directed by Bob Eaton, it produced a lot of laughter, some of it fairly hysterical, happy faces and a standing ovation by some people.

But hold on. What do we have here?

It is full of strong language, crude insults, enough music to make this a musical in all but name, lots of Scousisms and many references to the Liverpool and Everton football teams.

The plot has two neighbours at war over something unnamed event that happened at Talacre: one, Noel, is a Liverpool fan; the other, Chris, an Everton supporter.

So there is a lot of so-called banter using phrases like “Bluenose knob” and “Gobshite” although most of the time they are supposed to be not talking to each other.

The plot cranks up when a local priest (a drunken one, naturally) starts a neighbourhood competition for the best Christmas lights.

The respective wives are the types who bat eyelids at the milkman and badmouth their husbands. Meanwhile Noel’s son and Chris’s daughter are having a secret affair.

A sub plot involves a bet on a white Christmas.

Sound familiar? It should. This sort of comedy has been churned out over the years, from George and Mildred to the Robson Green television comedy about, er, neighbours competing for the best Christmas lights. And didn’t Shakespeare write something about a young couple from warring families?

But this rehashed comedy is apparently what the Liverpool public wants, and the cruder the better. Mind you, we are warned in the opening scene that if we don’t like swearing “there’s the *@&%*+!@ door!”. A loud noise covers the expletive but, worry not, it pops up in its full glory later on.

There are two saving graces: the cast and the music. Roly-poly Stephen Aintree plays the Everton fan, Chris, with unashamed gusto, while Jake Abraham does the same for Liverpool advocate Noel. Royal Court favourite Eithne Browne wiggles seductively as Chris’s wife, Holly, and big Lindzi Germain is a knockout as Noel’s larger-than-life wife, Ivy.

Alan Stocks plays several characters but gets the most fun out of the drunken priest, one who exclaims “Jesus Christ!” when he trips over the pulpit.

The music under music director Howard Gray follows some other shows at this venue by adapting lyrics for well-known songs, in this case Christmas songs and carols. Chris, fed up with his Father Christmas role in a grotto, for example, uses the melody of Santa Claus is Coming to Town to sing “Santa Claus is getting pissed off”.

One discovery of the show is ex-LIPA student Rachel Rae as a stroppy teenage daughter but one who has a superb singing voice. Her love interest from next door, played by Stephen Fletcher, has an equally fine set of lungs.

There is a surprise denouement about the “Talacre incident” which had the audience hooting with joy but one which it would be churlish to reveal. It does make up for a lot that has gone before.

However, I do despair at the success of this sort of writing which uses stereotypes for easy targets and an excess of language that would make D.H.Lawrence blush.

Whatever happened to the well-made play which grips audiences with the sheer power of the writing? I recall Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy at the Royal Court some years ago with an audience enthralled by a drama which had no need for bad language or music, come to that.

But times change, I suppose, and the Royal Court, as a commercial theatre which has no public subsidy, needs to get audiences in.

Whatever I say, this show should do the trick.

It’s local, it has a lot of jolly music which had people waving arms or clapping along and, despite my sense of déjà vu about a lot of it, there are plenty of people who are going to enjoy it.

Indeed, there were times on my visit to the show when I felt like grumpy old Scrooge doing his “Bah. Humbug!” routine surrounded by happy people having fun.

Many of them, incidentally, were groups of women obviously out for a good time.

At least it makes a change from pantomime at Christmas but this is not one for the kids.

Interesting to note that the pit band includes on guitar Andrew Schofield, a chap better known for his acting abilities, most recently in a number of Royal Court shows.

5.5/10 Populist fare

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

Luvvy LuluDecember 17th 2009.

Sorry, I didn't edit my post either, anonymous. Phil KEY not Kay, says one of the production's saving graces is that it was WELL acted. Does it say that on your kid's school play? And personal insults about the writer only goes to prove that this play is perhaps appealing to the rather vacuous lowest common denominator who likes to think they've seen a theatre show.

AnonymousDecember 17th 2009.

I cannot believe that I was at the same production as Mr Kay.I'm not a native scouser but I know many people who are and I understand and enjoyed 100% the performance on sat 12th. Actually from my front circle position not only did I enjoy it but so did the rest of the audience unless its a liverpool tradtion to give standing ovations to poorly written and acted plays.I can only commend the actors whom at one point were thrown off script by a scene malfunction and I hope that they and the royal court continue to produce such shows which, for £10 give more value for money than any blockbuster production. As for the swearing its a form of expression that whilst crude to some is natural to others the world world be very dull if we all spoke with plums in our mouths EDITORIAL: Rant edited...Constructive comments welcome. personal insults not.

DigDecember 17th 2009.

Has Liverpool Confidential just pissed off and left me in charge?

DigDecember 17th 2009.

You know me so well.

Dave SquiresDecember 17th 2009.

After reading the review on your site I was a little worried as I'd booked to see this play on Saturday, however after a trawl on the internet I found 5 or 6 glowing reviews for the play, so I was no longer concerned about it, especially as The Stage had suggested it was 'the show to see on M'side this Xmas'; but I have to say I was confused; how can half a dozen other reviewers sing the praises of this play while your reviewer clearly thought very little of it??? After watching the play on Saturday, listening to the constant laughter & observing the standing ovation at the end, and also enjoying it immensely (as did the 9 other members of my party), I have to say I am amazed at the review Phil Key has written. He did have the grace to say that there was much laughter & a standing ovation at the performance he went to, but the question must be asked: if this reviewer is so out of touch with what the people of Liverpool clearly enjoy why is he sent to review 'populist fare'? Wouldn't;he be better joining the blue rinse OAPs at the Playhouse? Oh and as for 'strong language', maybe he should avoid the Everyman & Unity Theatres also, & after watching Timothy Spall's comedy Drama on ITV last night he should also avoid any TV after the watershed.

JJDecember 17th 2009.

I am appalled at Liverpool Confidential for producing these honest and truthful, if sometimes mildly critical reviews. I will go back to the Echo where nobody would ever say anything critical about anything, even if it was actually total shite, in case they upset the advertisers. What do you think you are playing at? Eh?

EditorialDecember 17th 2009.

Yep, just sit still and hold your ground. Dig

Truculent of ToxtethDecember 17th 2009.

Dig is hinting that hats would be welcome in his Christmas stocking

DigDecember 17th 2009.

I wouldn't dream of touching anybodies red button. That Sky+ is a life saver!

DigDecember 17th 2009.

When it comes to anything creative like music, art, tv, film, music or even theatre we all have different tastes. There's something for everybody. Read the review for what it is, one mans opinion. One mans shite is another mans gold.

Is this The Wire we are watching?December 17th 2009.

What swear words? Where? I haven't seen this show, and I'm not a prude, but I do think the strategically placed f-word is far more effective than a barrage of them. We are all used to hearing rich, good anglo-saxon language, but it can get a bit tiresome if it is overused. I'm sure a lot of people love this stuff, but equally I'm sure a lot of people are turned off by it. I have personally got a mouth like a sewer, but I don't want to pay to hear it from other people and I do think 22 expletives in two hours is about 20 too many!

Rusty SpikeDecember 17th 2009.

Aka 'Royal Court Iain' and his rant...how often do you think that paid PR bag carriers, whose job is to peddle myths and occasional magic, get the chance of reply to a critic? Fair play to Liverpool Confidential but frankly I would have thought a dignified silence better the order of the day than his vigorous defence of this show - it persuades me that perhaps Mr Key was actually even kinder than he should have been. In truth I haven't seen this latest production from the Royal Court stable of 'Aren't Scousers Just Effing Brilliant and Wacky, La' but from Mr Key's observations and 'verbal' reports from others who thought it cliche ridden and - dare I say it - rather vulgar, I will give it a miss. And I would suggest that 'Royal Court Iain' stick to the press release handouts filled with PR puffery. One can only marvel at the effect that Liverpool's Capital of Culture Year has had on expanding people's taste, and the programming agenda's of some of the theatres in the city.

Luvvy LuluDecember 17th 2009.

Erm, says here it was acted, anonymous...

Prof ****lebuttyDecember 17th 2009.

Can't see what the problem is here, an honest review. The production clearly doresn't turn Mr Key's lock (boom,boom) but he says, if this is the kind of production you are into, then you'll enjoy it. This isn't something that I would choose to go and see but I can see the attraction and entertainment value in it. The important thing is, it is not dong any harm and although this genre alreadyhas a loyal audience, it may encourage people who would not normally consider going to the theatre to abandon the telly for other theatre events in the future. It helps keep the money coming in and keeps the theatre going. There is always the Playhouse and The Everyman if your swearing is only acceptable when written by Pinter or if you want to wet yourselves laughing during a riotously unfunny joke by the Bard of Avon, that probably only raised a mild snigger when he first tried out his gags on the Restoration Comedy Circuit. The thing is, there is room for the populist and the highbrow. At least it gets people away from the sodding X-factor for the night. Mind you, that Old King Billy Cotton thing by Jimmy McCracker that I went to a while back was ruined by that Riley bloke snoring his head off. At least Mr Key stays awake.

Luvvy LuluDecember 17th 2009.

Sorry, I didn't edit my post either, anonymous. Phil KEY not Kay, says one of the production's saving graces is that it was WELL acted. Does it say that on your kid's school play? And personal insults about the writer only goes to prove that this play is perhaps appealing to the rather vacuous lowest common denominator who likes to think they've seen a theatre show.

End ofDecember 17th 2009.

Yawn. Key is right. Saw it. It's crap. He was generous. The other reviewers clearly know Jack Cack Dave.

Dave SquiresDecember 17th 2009.

Opinions as they say are like *rseholes 'End Of', you & Mr. Key have yours & why not, but clearly from the other reviews out there and the audience reactions you're in a very small minority, the show is clearly a hit. Quite funny though that because half a dozen other journalists have a different opinion to you, you claim they 'know Jack Cack'....

The QueenDecember 17th 2009.

Mr Kay? Peter Kay?

President ObamaDecember 17th 2009.

Dig I hope this will not interfere with our arrangement for you to mind the Oval Office, while I take the First lady to see Merry Ding Dong on Broadway.Now remember what I said DON'T TOUCH THAT RED BUTTON !

Royal Court IainDecember 17th 2009.

Wow. I have never felt the need to respond to a review before (and we have some good and some bad) but I can't let this pass. I have always had a great deal of respect for you Phil and I understand the fact that a review is one person's opinion but I just need to challenge a couple of things. I am glad that you mention the other people in the theatre who were enjoying themselves. So far nearly 5,000 people have seen the show and the vast majority have been singing, dancing and laughing along - the show has received a standing ovation every night. The main point is the swearing. In this production the characters use everyday language and there are 22 uses of swear words over the course of two hours. All of these words have been used on this site in the last seven days so to say that there is "an excess of language that would make D.H. Lawrence blush" means that Mr L was far more easily offended than I thought.Once again, I understand a reviewer's right to give his opinion and I won't even quibble with the mark (a play is worth whatever the individual reviewer is willing to give it). I just don't want people thinking that this is a show that is packed with what my old dad would call "effing and jeffing" when it is very far from that. Come and see for yourselves folks!Merry Christmas Phil, and to all those who read Liverpoolconfidential and we hope to see you back next year.

theatre luvvieDecember 17th 2009.

Look, as a theatre goer of all tastes, having seen 39 steps at Playhouse three days earlier (which was fantastic)and a cabaret on Edge hill station last night, which was 'interesting', I went along expecting a scouse play and to be fair I got it, but have to say it was really really funny, wouldn't say it was every scouse stereo type , but if you like the Royal Family, (and admit it a lot of people do) then you will get your merries here..

AnonymousDecember 17th 2009.

Ok ok so had I been in a position to proof read my post properly …..Doesn’t make my opinion any less important does it ?Yes it does say “acted” doesn’t it ,but that’s what’s on the programme at my 6year olds school play and I’d give that a darn site more than 5.5/10

Luvvy LuluDecember 17th 2009.

Erm, says here it was acted, anonymous...

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