Getting a new musical off the ground isn’t for the faint-hearted.
For every Hamilton or Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, there’s a Carrie, Spider Man or I Can’t Sing which for some reason fails to ignite.
And so there’s a lot at stake for productions like Liver Birds Flying Home, an ambitious time-crossing tale featuring those feisty flatmates Beryl and Sandra who charmed millions of TV viewers in the early 70s with their Liverpudlian wit and youthful joie de vivre.
In this new story, by Barb Jungr, George Seaton and Linda McDermott – one that was given the late Carla Lane’s seal of approval – we meet the pair in their platform heeled heyday as well as in the present day when life isn’t quite the adventure they thought it would be.
Beryl appears outwardly poised and successful, the salt-of-the-earth Scouser now a groomed businesswoman and elegant grandmother, but she has demons she’s long kept at bay.
Sandra meanwhile is a slightly dowdy and worn 60-something expat back in the city to see to her late mother’s house and effects, and who bumps in to her old partner-in-crime while on a nostalgic wander past their Huskisson Street flat.
Joanna Monro (Sandra) and Lesley Molony (Beryl) in Liver Birds Flying Home
So why haven’t the pair seen or spoken to each other in more than 40 years? And what Pandora’s Box of destructive secrets is about to be opened as a result of their chance encounter?
So far, so good. On paper Liver Birds Flying Home is a strong contender. It has a solid premise, a songwriting team that, in addition to Jungr features Mike Lindup of Level 42 fame, and the rosy glow of nostalgia for a TV favourite to warm its audience’s heart.
It also has a very effective set courtesy of designer Mark Walters, a sweeping Mersey waterfront panorama with the two stories playing in parallel over, well, two storeys, and a nifty series of sliding doors which echo the sliding doors nature of the plot. What if different decisions had been made? What if characters had spoken out? What if, what if?
Yet, at present it’s not fulfilling its promise, and that’s disappointing – both for the cast and creative team who have invested so much time and heart in the show, and for the viewer too.
There are hints of Jackie the Musical in its make-up. But Jackie had the benefit of some instantly recognisable 70s classics to use as an atmospheric springboard, whereas while Jungr and Lindup have penned a series of melodic new numbers, they all end up rather merging in to one. There’s nothing you could hum on the way home, no truly catchy tune or stirring anthem.
Nicola Munns (Sandra), Lucinda Lawrence (Beryl) and Mark Rice-Oxley (Billy)
While the story arc is solid, its progress is hampered somewhat by a tendency to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it – some ideas good, some bad, and some clichéd, along with a strange absence of energy through the modern day scenes.
Lane and co-writer Myra Taylor’s Liver Birds were funny, both intentionally and, in Sandra’s case, often unintentionally, but there’s a distinct lack of laugh-out-loud moments over the course of the evening. Remember Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Well, whatever happened to the Liver Birds?
On a positive note, Lucinda Lawrence and Nicola Munns are lively and charming as the younger Beryl and Sandra, and there’s a heartfelt, emotional finale for their older counterparts, played by Lesley Molony and Joanna Monro, while Mark Rice-Oxley has a busy time playing all the male roles, from Beryl’s feckless boyfriend Billy to her son Con, albeit via a bizarre episode involving semi-nudity and garibaldis.