Her Benny review at Royal Court, Liverpool – ‘the return of a warm-hearted favourite’
Reading Her Benny, Silas Hocking’s Dickensian tale of slum children fighting to better themselves in a cruel world, has been a rite of passage for generations of Liverpool children.
And for the past 25 years it’s also been a favourite for theatre audiences, although this weighty anniversary production is the first time in a decade it’s been seen on a city stage.
Writer/director/composer Anne Dalton has taken her musical back to the drawing board, tweaking the script and having the whole thing re-orchestrated in lush, golden age of Hollywood-style musical Technicolor – albeit it recorded, rather than played by a live orchestra.
But she’s certainly not stinted elsewhere, with a cast of the size rarely seen outside the West End adding definite va-va-voom to the big ensemble numbers, which are richly realised.
The sheer number of bodies populating the stage also add dramatic punch to Nazene Danielle’s brisk and lively choreography.
Dalton, meanwhile, has an eye for a striking tableau, even if she sometimes overeggs the dramatic pudding in a story already high on Victorian melodrama.
At its heart is young Benny, played on press night with winning charm and confidence by schoolboy Louie Gray, a Liverpool street urchin who, with his tragic sister little Nell, is given a second chance in life thanks to the kindness of night watchman Joe Wragg (baritone Peter Brindle). Of course there are trials, tribulations, misunderstandings, and lessons to be learned about goodness and Godliness (Hocking was a Methodist minister) along the way to redemption, love and success.