Review: For Love or Money at Liverpool Playhouse ***
Northern Broadsides have become one of the foundations of a Playhouse season – and before that, of the Everyman’s annual programme.
Earlier this year the theatrical Tykes brought their version of Cyrano de Bergerac to Williamson Square, and next spring they’re back with a Broadsides’ take on Dickens’ Hard Times.
Sandwiched between the two is regular collaborator Blake Morrison’s adaptation of a 300-year-old French comedy, Turcaret, here re-packaged as For Love or Money and located in a pre-Wall Street Crash corner of God’s own country - populated with the venal, love-lorn and conniving.
It’s also Barrie Rutter’s last appearance for the company on a Liverpool stage, after announcing earlier this year he was stepping down (a personal protest over Arts Council funding levels). For many, Rutter IS Broadsides, and he will leave a larger-than-life hole at the heart of the company when he departs in the New Year.
Barrie Rutter as Algy Fuller in For Love or Money. Photo by Nobby Clark
Given the circumstances, you rather wish for Rutter in full bombastic flow. Yet his performance in For Love or Money is strangely muted. He plays Algy Fuller, a bank manager of advancing years in love-struck pursuit of a beautiful young war widow Rose (Sarah-Jane Potts).
She, in turn, is infatuated with Arthur (Jos Vantyler), the feckless wastrel son of the local doctor, passing Fuller’s financial gifts straight on to her young paramour, much to the disgust of her plain-speaking housekeeper Marlene (an enjoyable turn from Jacqueline Naylor).
Add in Arthur’s fast-talking sidekick Jack, Jack’s pliable fiancée, a sweet but gormless farmer, bruiser bank clerk and a mysterious lady drinker, and it has all the ingredients for a fast and furious financial farce. Who is on the make? Who is the predator and who the victim? Who, if anyone should we feel sorry for?
Jos Vantyler as Arthur. Photo by Nobby Clark
And yet overall, it feels underpowered. While there are moments with lots of movement on stage, the action still needs more pace, more purpose. More oomph.
There are some entertaining individual performances, including Jordan Metcalfe and Kat Rose-Martin as the lovers plotting their own nest feathering, Jim English’s idiot horny-handed son of toil, and a wild-eyed Vantyler as the dissolute playboy Arthur – although it takes a while to reconcile the broad Yorkshire vowels and razor-sharp cheekbones.
The first half sets up the story (housekeeper Marlene gets a Shakespearean prologue-style lengthy spoken exposition) and the second half sees the complicated machinations played out on designer Jessica Worrall’s set, a deliberately sparse space reflecting Rose’s reduced circumstances.
All in all, For Love or Money is solid entertainment, but not a Broadsides' classic.