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Les Dennis brings World Cup fever to the Royal Court

Football World Cup fever is about to strike again – but who remembers the FIFA tournament of 1978?

Writer Gerry Linford for one, who used it for the setting of a story which was not only chosen as the runner up in the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize but is getting its premiere during the current World Cup, and with one of its judges in the leading role.

Les Dennis was so impressed by A Prayer to St Cajetan – now renamed The Miracle of Great Homer Street – that he decided to come on board as a co-producer as well.

“When we were reading all those plays I just remember it standing out for me as a piece that related to the city,” Dennis explains during a lunchtime break in rehearsals. “Also, it was true to the World Cup and the period authenticity, and the exactness of the way the World Cup played out.

“And when I Googled St Cajetan and found it’s all true – he is the patron saint of all those things, Argentina, the unemployed and gambling, it was like, wow, OK, this is really an interesting piece, and I thought it would work perfectly in the Royal Court.”

The Royal Court, one of the playwriting prize partners, evidently felt the same way, and now Linford’s debut piece is entertaining audiences at the Roe Street theatre throughout June.

Dennis plays Father Aherne, a Catholic priest given a place to stay by one devout parishioner, Marion, and with an uncanny ability to predict the results of matches which soon wins over her cynical husband Terry.

But is the good father’s luck down to divine intuition or divine intervention?

Drew Schofield plays Terry, and Dennis says he was keen to work with the Royal Court favourite – who also appeared alongside him in Down the Dock Road – again.

Les Dennis in Down The Dock Road. Top: In The Miracle of Great Homer Street (photo Zanto Digital)

“He was always a perfect fit for Terry,” he says. “Drew is a brilliant actor, I’ve admired him since….we were talking the other day, he said ‘hey, you came to see us with Russ Abbot when I was in Blood Brothers’.

“I said ‘I know, absolutely, it was me and Russ and Dustin Gee, we came backstage and we shyly said hello because we thought you were brilliant.’ That was 1982. And I’ve seen Drew so many brilliant things and admired him as an actor, and I’ve wanted to work with him.

“He was our first choice when we were doing Down the Dock Road.”

This time Dennis is actually appearing with two generations of Schofields, as Drew’s son Bobby – who Liverpool audiences will remember as Lomper in The Full Monty – is also among the cast.

Dennis, who had no idea who the 25-year-old was when he cast him, smiles: “He’s absolutely perfect for the role, and he’s brought something to it that none of us saw.

“It’s written as a punk, but he’s brought, as he calls it, this kind of ‘Lark Lane pretention’ to it! Which is funny, and really great.”

The cast also includes Cath Rice, Katie King and Jake Abraham.

Les Dennis as Jigsy. Photo by Steve Ullathorne

The Miracle of Great Homer Street is Dennis’s first return to work since he had to leave the tour of The Adaams Family 10 -weeks early last autumn after developing bronchitis and laryngitis.

But it’s the start of a busy time for the 64-year-old.

He reveals: “I’m going straight from this play to a play in London, and I am going to overlap. It’s going to be like being a rep actor. I’m going to start rehearsing the next play while I’m still here doing the last couple of weeks of Miracle.

“It’s at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, which is a really interesting new space that I think won best fringe theatre a couple of years ago, and it’s a new play by Danny Robins and is called End of the Pier. A little bit like Jigsy (the role he performed at the Royal Court in 2012), I’m playing an old comic again, but it’s not a one man play this time.”

Ahead of that then is The Miracle of Great Homer Street.

So what can audiences expect if they come and see the show?

“It’s a lovely, very funny, very sweet play,” Dennis says. “With Cajetan being there, it reminds me very much of the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s that quality. It’s a parable really, and it takes you in places, and there some genuine surprises.

“There are some lovely performances and some moments that are heart-breaking, and there are some very funny moments as well.

“I think it’s a play that works perfectly for the Royal Court. Anybody who loves football will get it and will also know that the references are so genuinely accurate. And anybody who doesn’t love football will love the story of the family.”

The Miracle of Great Homer Street is at Royal Court Liverpool until June 30. Tickets from the website HERE.

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