Friday, 14 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Death And All His Friends - Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool.

Death And All His Friends is being performed at The Hope Street Theatre, which is situated in one of the back rooms at The Masonic Buikding in Liverpool. It’s a lovely building, full of character and lovely architecture. Death And All His Friends is one of many shows being performed over The Liverpool Fringe Festival.

Produced by Sharon Colpman for Make It Write Productions, this is a fantastic platform, which gives new writers and directors an opportunity to showcase their work. Make It Write have recently produced Barn Swallows, Twisted Tales and Write Up Your Street, featuring all new and upcoming writers and directors. Directed by Sarah Sharp, whose dedication, energy and enthusiasm were clearly noted and observed in the production. Her direction was really good and managed to incorporate all four tales to flow effortlessly and appear from different angles on the stage too.

The play was written by Ste Mc, after having several short plays performed in London and Liverpool, this is his first full length play. His commitment and hard-work were clearly demonstrated in the play. Although, Death And All His Friends fitted the horror genre, he successfully managed to inject some comedy in the second half of the play. His writing for this production was particularly good and there were lovely snippets of dialogue throughout.

There was a strong, ensemble cast of actors including Jen, The Master of Ceremonies (Hayley Claire Warner), Jonathon (Andy McQuaker), the policeman (Grant Ryan Lennon) and Simon (Warren Kettle). Huge praise to Laura Connolly, who played the multi roles of Doctor Willow, Ruth and Shelley Franks. She played all three characters very differently and added another layer of depth to each character. She is an extremely versatile actress.

As the audience entered the theatre, we were immediately greeted by the presence of Jen, dressed in Victorian clothing, whilst standing on a raised platform with a noose around her neck. This really set the scene for Death And His Friends and inevitably had the audience's attention instantly. When the audience were all settled in their seats, the song, Sound Of Silence by Paul Simon was played, this really set the tone for what was to come and created an eerie atmosphere.

The narrative of Death And His Friends opened, when Jen suddenly woke up from the dead and explained she had been dead for over a century. She began talking about the history of the building, where she was trapped as a ghost. This particular building had a rich history of death, murder and tragedy from various times in history. Although, the building has been utilised for various purposes over the years, a considerable amount of deaths have occurred there. There were a few running themes featured in the play such as murder, tragedy and mental illnesses.

Warner played the role of the Narrator very well and captured the audience's attention with her three dark tales of murder, mayhem and tragedy. Jen had her own tale of what she had wickedly done in the past and told the audience slowly and between the three different tales. She did a great job keeping the audience entertained with her wit and charisma, which inevitably kept the audience on the edges of their seats with her gruesome, horror stories.

The first tale was Voices, and was set in the early days of the building being first utilised. The tale featured Doctor Willow attempting to calm down and restrain her patient, Jonathon, without much success in a mental hospital. Jonathon was extremely disturbed as he kept hearing voices, which no one else did, These voices wouldn’t leave him alone and made him deeply unsettled. During the session, heated arguements were exchanged as dark secrets were revealed.

Life And Death was the second tale in the play and set much later on about half a century ago or more. Ruth, an extremely troubled and emotional woman, was attempting to commit suicide by throwing herself off the top of the building. As she was in as state of anguish leaning towards the edge, when she was discovered by a passing policeman. It was his first proper shift on the job, so he was faced with a very difficult situation. Thankfully, he managed to save her, but he made a horrifying discovery as he attempted to console her.

The third tale was The Price Of Fame was set in present day, when a Reality TV Star, Shelley Franks and her camera guy, Simon came to record a documentary on the haunted building. After a few moments there, their worst fears were revealed that there were ghosts there as in unexplained movements and voices kept happening in their presence. Unlike the other tales, which were disturbing and harrowing to watch, this particular story had funny parts in it, with hysterical one-liners and reactions of both Simon and Shelley. Whilst eating some food, they were horrified to discover their food had been tampered with something not very nice. After hearing the other tales, it was nice torch to add some comedy into the play. After a while there, they finally realised they were not alone in the building and someone or something was stalking them, with horrifying consequences.

Finally, Jen concluded her tale, which caused shock amongst the audience. All these tales had murder, mayhem and tragedy all rolled into one. Without revealing too much, these tales all had a hidden, dark secret or two, which were later revealed as the tales progressed.

The set design of Death And His Friends was simple, but very effective. I really liked the concept of having the noose displayed in the middle of the stage constantly, as the audience kept guessing who would hung or not. The costumes were really good and reflected the different periods featured in the play. Attention to detail was considerably made especially for Hayley’s costume of Jen as it captured the Victorian era very well.

Lighting was very effective and created the right mood for each tale and created a great build up of tension. Well done to Michael Evans on his sound, all the noises were extremely effective and worked incredibly well for all the scenes. I particularly like the low vibrations, which added to the increasingly eerie atmosphere of the set. Make-up by Melanie Halsall was applied well and added the shock factor to some of the characters, particularly Jen.

The choreography was also good for scenes which involved the characters in conflict with each other. Great use of the song, The Sound Of Silence, which was played a few tunes between scenes. This inevitably created the mood and set the tone of the play. All the team on and off the stage worked incredibly well together on this brilliant production.

I would highly recommend you go and see Death And All His Friends, it’s a great polished work of theatre. The play will keep you on the edge of your seat and capture your imagination instantly. Featuring different tales of murder and tragedy, it also had elements of comedy in the second half, which is always a nice equilibrium to have in a play. I couldn’t fault this play at all. Definitely worth going to see this production. I really hope the play goes to a bigger theatre to reach a wider audience, which it surely deserves.

Reviewer - Mark Cooper
on - 12/6/19

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