Following the success of Twopence to Cross the Mersey, based on Helen Forrester’s popular Merseyside memoir, Rob Fennah’s new adaptation, By the Waters of Liverpool, takes on the next two volumes, exploring her life from her teens to her early 20s and the outbreak of the Second World War.
It’s a big, sweeping story, and this is reflected in the play’s substantial running time. Although at times the action rattles along in rapid fire scenes, the style of narrative, in which actors describe their actions almost as though reading the stage directions, makes the piece feel sluggish.
Foxton’s set depicts a Liverpool cityscape, with the open space of the Empire’s vast stage bounded by shopfronts. Individual scenes are created by the swift movement of furniture.
Maria Lovelady holds the show together courageously as Helen, with the remaining cast playing some 60-70 parts between them. Emma Dears and Mark Moraghan, as her financially reckless mother and father, are particularly good.
Whilst the first act needs to pick up the pace, the action becomes more intensely driven after the interval. The story’s swift progress initially makes it difficult to connect with the characters, but by the tragic conclusion there is a sense of real emotional investment and genuine poignancy.
Though the method of storytelling is frustrating at times, this is an affecting and affectionate piece of writing, and, under Gareth Tudor Price’s direction, it makes a fine job of capturing both the period and the peculiar class barriers that existed in Forrester’s life.