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Theatre review: Our Day Out - The Musical/ Royal Court, Liverpool

The wheels on Willy Russell's bus go round and round as briskly as ever, says Philip Key

Published on September 3rd 2010.


Theatre review: Our Day Out - The Musical/ Royal Court, Liverpool

SECOND time around can be fraught with all sorts of difficulties, as many a husband and wife have discovered on remarriage. It’s the problem of expectations - will it be as good as the first time?

Willy Russell’s musical version of his play Our Day Out has returned to the Royal Court for a second outing following its success last year.

Amid all the comedy and music is a serious view of kids and education that is the same today as yesterday

It comes with a new and bigger set, a new adult cast and some reworking.But the young cast, with a couple of exceptions, remains the same, and the plot – about a Liverpool school outing to North Wales – is unchanged.

And, yes, it is as big a success as before as the standing ovation suggested, just a bit different.

If you saw it last time you might be disappointed that some faces are new, so performances are different and the look of some of it has altered. But it remains a terrific musical show.

Russell has the ability to inject, into what is superficially a jolly knees-up, social comment and human understanding. Amid all the comedy and music is a serious view of kids and education that is the same today as yesterday.

The class heading off on the coach trip for the day out is a so-called “progress class”, one that has learning difficulties. Even before they get on the coach they are called names by pupils from a regular class.

In charge is the understanding Mrs Kay (played by local comedienne/actress Pauline Daniels) and younger teachers Mark (Stephen Fletcher) and Katie (Georgina White).

The plan, to the pupils’ delight, is to spend the day at Alton Towers. But that all changes when disciplinarian teacher Mr Briggs (Mark Moraghan) decides to join the trip.

The itinerary is changed to a visit to North Wales. Despite being told that “it’s not just castles and sheep” the kids are not pleased.

What happens on that trip makes up the bulk of the show as they head through the Mersey Tunnel, bump over a humpback bridge, stop for a comfort break, visit a zoo, take in Conwy Castle, go to the beach and then end up at an unexpected venue. All to a constant musical score.

The music and lyrics were written by Russell and director Bob Eaton with some additional music by Chris Mellor. It may be my imagination but there seems more music than before and all of a very high standard.

All the previous numbers are there including Our Day Out, Boss of the Bus, I’m In Love with Sir, Why Can’t It Always Be This Way and Beach Boy, each a hit in its own right.

The cast of youngsters dance and sing with a verve and skill that is quite breath-taking, greatly helped by the imaginative choreography of Beverley Norris-Edmunds.

Pauline Daniels fits neatly into the role of the sympathetic Mrs Kay while Mark Moraghan is perfect as the bellowing martinet Mr Briggs who softens as the trip progresses.

Among the young cast Abby Mavers makes her mark again as the would-be sexpot Carlene with her eye on getting to grips with her teacher. There is a delightful dream sequence, given a Hollywood touch, in which she imagines a love affair with him only to be brought rudely down to earth by her fellow pupils.

Mia Molloy is poignant as the sad Amy who hates her home surroundings and refuses to go home, singing her solo Why Can’t It Always Be This Way? She thinks the kids at home would destroy anything nice.

Russell has a good ear for youthful dialogue (“It’s boring, bleedin’ boring” is the constant chant from two young girls) but also gives his adult actors plenty of meat, including the coach driver Ronny (Kieran Cunningham) who declares that in his day “the teachers talked properly and wore suits”.

Despite his strict education, however, he laments that he ended up driving a coach.

Throughout, Russell keeps the laughs coming and no more so than in the visit to the zoo where the pupils manage to come away with some of the animals all of which appear live on stage including a chicken, a pig, a rabbit, a sheep and a llama.

The new set, by designer Mark Walters, may not be to everyone’s liking, rather brash with its colours and graffiti-styled design, but it works well enough in the context of the show with plenty of movement, particularly with the boxes on wheels suggesting the coach itself.

The strength of any show is the ability to withstand recasting and still come up bright and shiny and Our Day Out The Musical – directed as before by Bob Eaton – meets the challenge.

It’s a production that tells a good story, offers some great songs, features lively characters and delivers a powerful message without ever preaching.

9/10

*Our Day Out runs at the Royal Court, Liverpool, until October 9.

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