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You'll Never Walk Alone/Royal Court

Philip Key enjoys the latest Nicky Allt show but it helps if you're one of the Reds

Written by . Published on October 5th 2011.

You'll Never Walk Alone/Royal Court

BACK in 1984, the Everyman staged a musical play titled You’ll Never Walk Alone about Liverpool Football Club.

Now, 27 years later, the Royal Court is staging a musical play titled You’ll Never Walk Alone about – ahem – Liverpool Football Club.

In case you wonder, it’s not the same show, even though the Court recently revived the Everyman’s 1982 opus, Lennon.

Whether King Kenny would be happy with
his onstage characterisation with joke
sticky-out ears is open to debate

Back in 1984, that version of the Liverpool FC story by Bob Carlton featured Scottish comedian Chic Murray as Bill Shankly. This time around writer Nicky Allt concentrates very much on the fans alongside the club history.

Originally planned as a play with music, it is now more of a musical with an onstage band propelling the story along with lots of songs, terrace chants and musical numbers.

Ynwa 4
It revolves around a family of Liverpool FC fans led by mum and dad (Pauline Daniels and Mark Moraghan) who we first discover scattering the ashes of a grandfather on the Anfield turf.

This allows them to recall the early days of the club as a spin-off from Everton when its first manager John McKennna first fielded a team made up entirely of Scottish players (cue the cast donning Victorian style moustaches to play board members).

Director Bob Eaton, with designer Mark Walters, has created a terrace-style set with a pub setting right of stage and a large screen at the rear to provide almost continuous visual aids.

Thus we get numerous pictures of contracts, old players (some obviously taken from cigarette cards), ancient team photographs and finally film of games and events, both on and off the pitch.

With around 120 years of history to cover, it necessarily skims over some events but seems to catch the essentials, often with great humour (Allt, after all, co-wrote the theatre’s big comedy hit Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels).

I particularly enjoyed the tale of sweary goalie Elisha Scott whose clashes with Everton’s Dixie Dean were legendary, as were his four-letter exchanges with one of his own full-backs.

Thankfully, we don’t get to hear the actual words as they are blotted out with various sounds, most notably Pauline Daniels pumping on an old car horn. It’s an hilarious sequence.

The cast of actor/musicians/singers take on various roles along the way and perform with a disarming swagger and sense of comedy and drama, rarely missing a beat.

Jamie Hampson and Lenny Wood, as the son and daughter of the family, are particularly good value with Ms Hampson opening proceedings with a fine rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a number which inevitably also closes the show.

Ynwa 12
Shankly naturally gets his own tribute, both with nostalgic photographs and film but also with the fans’ own comments. He remains the most fondly remembered character in the club’s history. His surprise resignation also closes the first half.

The second half, with the rise of Bob Paisley, will have more of a personal resonance with the majority of the audience and there are still plenty of laughs, including a moment when the family suggest the team has some good-looking players, bringing to the screen unflattering portraits of people like Tommy Smith and Phil Thompson.

But a real history of the club cannot ignore the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough, and the show pulls off the almost impossible by giving both events genuinely moving accounts among the hi-jinks.

With filmed scenes of the aftermaths of both games and beautiful songs capturing the sadness of the club’s supporters (and continuing fight for justice for the Hillsborough families) the show hits just the right note.

It also makes the point that Liverpool fans are like a family of their own, pulling together when needed and no more so than when the Spirit of Shankly was formed to fight the ownership of the previous American owners. Like pantomime villains, the pair are roundly booed when their image appears on screen.

There are many amusing moments of the fans’ overseas travels for European games and notably the game in Istanbul when the dejected family at half-time think it’s all over but return to the game when they hear the strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The filmed scene of Steven Gerrard urging his team on after scoring the opening goal of the second half still has the power to bring a lump to the throat.

Ynwa 1
Some of the club’s more recent disappointments are glossed over but happily the show has come at a time when Liverpool FC is making its way back, the arrival back of Kenny Dalglish as manager a notable highlight (although whether King Kenny would be happy with his onstage characterisation with joke sticky-out ears is open to debate).

It must be said that this is a show really aimed at the fans and as such succeeds in capturing the essential family-like atmosphere, one in which supporters are fiercely loyal despite the occasional disappointments (like being relegated to Division Two) among the outstanding triumphs: the list of honours when screened goes on and on.

However, it also in its own way provides a history of the city, one in which football has remained an essential part of its make-up for over a century.


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Angie Carter shared this on Facebook on October 12th 2011.
Angie Carter shared this on Facebook on October 12th 2011.
Angie Carter shared this on Facebook on October 12th 2011.
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