All at Sea

Brendan Deeds is disappointed aboard The Liverpool Boat

The characters and dialogue of this latest production from Red Lead Arts seemed inauthentic to me.

In 1969, a group of diverse characters assemble at the quayside. Eileen McCafferty, long suffering wife of an alcoholic docker, takes her children, Padraig, Sean and Bernadette to the ferry to leave Sailortown behind.

Norman, a mid-Ulster farmer, has jilted his fiancée to explore his sexuality upon another shore.

Best friends, Catherine and Shirley, flee troubled Belfast to seek out love and excitement in the WRAF. In the lounge these characters meet Kurt Silver, an Opportunity Knocks runner up, whose dazzling charisma is brought out by Louis Emerick‘s fine performance.

With all the possible stories to tell from the people who left for a better life across the sea it is disappointing this musical chose to tell the ones we’ve heard too many times before.

For long stretches Marie Jones and Maurice Bessman’s script is flat and uninspired although the four Liverpool decades flow fluidly by Carol Moore’s skilful direction and designer Niall Rea’s magical transformation of the evocative setting of Belfast’s Dockers Club into the boat’s cabaret lounge.

The gay bar in Act I provides some painful gay stereotypes not seen this side of Are You Being Served?. These wrist-flailing, two-dimensional grotesques do not belong in a 21st century drama, but they provided the biggest laughs for the audience.

Whilst in the second act, the relationship of Norman and his partner, Keith, played with sensitivity and gravitas by Tony Devlin, attempts to explore the issue of homosexuality in NI, it is far too brief and is hampered by Packy Lee’s camp creation milking every laugh with his disco dancing.

The Liverpool Boat is not a drama but a melodrama, and not a very good one at that. The troubled McCafferty family’s self-destruction lacks emotion as the actors insert decibels for passion to overcompensate for the characters lack of depth.

Although the play borrows from Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (especially in its positioning of the actors within the audience and the show’s final song, a version of Brecht and Weil’s Mack The Knife) it lacks the political power behind Brecht’s destruction of the fourth wall.

In Sam Mendes Cabaret the same technique was used eloquently to suggest to the audience that ordinary people were complicit in the Nazi’s crimes.

There are some pockets of entertainment in this musical but if you want to see a piece that has something new to say don’t get on this boat.