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Review: Council Depot Blues at Royal Court Liverpool ***

Back in 2008, Dave Kirby scored a hat-trick of successes at the Royal Court with Brick Up, Lost Soul and Council Depot Blues.

The first two have returned to the theatre in recent years, but the last time the latter was staged was almost a decade ago.

Now the story inspired by Kirby’s own time working for the ‘rat jugglers’ (as the Liverpool Corporation’s house clearance department was nicknamed) is back, and with practically the same cast reprising their roles from 2008 and 2010.

The only newbie is James Nelson-Joyce as drug-dealing, rap-loving Scally youngster Shorty – the show’s own ‘Skeminem’. And even the young actor, who impressed on screen recently in Little Boy Blue, already knew the plot, being a teenage member of the audience during Council Depot Blues’ culture year run.

Stan (a harmonica-wielding Phil Hearne) is facing his last day at the Corpy after 40 years, and while he talks a good game at counting down the hours to retirement, does he really mean it?

Meanwhile the other members of the clearance gang talk incessantly of escaping the daily grind, as well as dreaming up creative ways to avoid doing too much actual work between clocking on and clocking off.

Derelict homes also make great rehearsal spaces, and the brilliant Blues music which suffuses Kirby’s tale is the real star of the show.

Council Depot Blues. Photos by Zanto Digital

The talented actor-musicians are led by Drew Schofield’s guitar-wielding Danny (incidentally Kirby was a roadie for schoolmate Schofield’s band in the 70s) and lay down some wonderfully laid-back and plaintive tunes as they bemoan their working men’s lot in traditional Blues fashion.

Meanwhile musical director Howard Gray, back in his role as the deadpan middle class disappointed drunk Norman, tickles the ivories on stage, and the cast produce some glorious vocal harmonies.

In between the numbers, Kirby weaves a plot around the discovery of a valuable banjolele, the fate of which tests the camaraderie of the gang to its limits.

There’s comedy in adversity of course, but not as much as you’d like there to be.

And the show’s really funny and keen observations and one-liners tend to be swamped by a lot of crude visual jokes and slapstick, while the production is also frustratingly short on the pace and energy which would help Kirby’s gags to fly.

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