Review: A Greasy Spoon at Liverpool Royal Court ***
There are two greasy spoons, it becomes clear early on, in this new comedy by first-time playwright Alice Bunker-Whitney.
One is Scrantastic, the down-to-earth eatery secreted along a Liverpool side street (possibly a Hey?) where the action unfolds.
The other is the piece of large metal kitchen equipment sticking out of the back of the café’s boss whom we discover lying lifeless on the floor as the curtain rises on the scene of an evident recent bloodbath.
It’s certainly quite the opening to two hours of frenetic physical action as the café’s staff, ditzy/daydreaming Mandy (Lindzi Germain) and level-headed Shannon (Hayley Sheen) try to hide the evidence of the crime while being interrupted by a collection of infuriating or irate male interlopers.
These include a hammer-wielding builder (Jay Johnson), a menacing vegetable man (Adam McCoy), a drippy regular simply known as Skinny Latte (McCoy again) and a jolly, visually impaired badge seller (the delightful Anthony Gough, making his Royal Court debut), all of whom become embroiled in the increasingly improbable action.
The Boss isn’t the first supine body manoeuvred to comic effect on the Roe Street stage – Royal Court regulars will be familiar with Mrs Llewellyn in Germain’s hospital hit The Royal.
But while the actors playing Mrs L were on the lithe side, Phillips is a big bloke and bending or propelling him from one unedifying position to another certainly gives Germain and Sheen a workout.
Above: Lindzi Germain, Ben Phillips, Hayley Sheen and Anthony Gough in A Greasy Spoon. Top: Shannon (Hayley Sheen) and Mandy (Lindzi Germain)
He may not have any actual lines, but I hope Phillips is getting danger money, and a ready supply of arnica, given the lumps and bumps he must be sustaining, not least to his head which thumped noisily into the door of designer Alfie Heywood’s Homebaked-style set on the night I saw the show, drawing gasps and – many apologies to the actor – one of the biggest laughs of the night from the audience.
Accidental comedy moments aside, director Fran Goodridge and the cast work hard to wring maximum fun from a script which has a promising premise, but which is disappointingly short on proper laugh-out loud moments, particularly in a first half which is more sporadically amusing than downright hilarious.
Aubergine, fart gags and sweary outbursts will only take you so far.
Happily, the comedy picks up after the interval with Mandy and Shannon’s collection of hapless hostages developing Scouse Stockholm Syndrome as the pressure builds (literally) inside the caff and the long arm of the law (McCoy yet again) hovers outside.