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Review: Dirty Old Town/Out the Woodwork at Hope Street Theatre ***1/2

Humanity comes under the microscope, albeit in different ways, in this double bill of short dramas enjoying a brief but busy run at the Hope Street Theatre – a venue which is proving a great space for independent companies and performers to present their work.

While Dirty Old Town is billed as a play, it feels more like it sits somewhere between one-woman drama, stand-up routine and stream-of-consciousness. It’s a hinterland actress (and founder of Burjesta Theatre) Mikyla Jane Durkan uses to her advantage to wrongfoot her audience as the piece unfolds.

Marigold Lately appears a middle-aged survivor of life's ups – but mostly downs it seems, Durkan’s character breaking the fourth wall early on to encourage direct engagement as she shares glimpses into her life and her views on the current state of the world, delivered with Ricky Gervais-style deadpan detachment (yeah?) and gallows humour.

This being Liverpool, the audience doesn’t need much of an invitation to join in – not on the night I saw it at least.

But along with seething, crowd-pleasing social and political commentary, and a quirky algebra lesson involving Phillip Schofield, Durkan also lobs in some unexpected and uncomfortable hand grenades (involving domestic violence, mental health and suicide). Some make an impact, but some skitter off, lost amid the collective laughs.

There are a lot of ideas woven together into quite a complex whole, one in which viewers need to be sensitive to the subtext as well as what’s happening on the surface.

Above: The cast of Out of Woodwork. Top: Mikyla Jane Durkan in Dirty Old Town. Photos by Andrew AB Photography.

Writer and director Lee Clotworthy shines a more straightforward spotlight on (the worst of) human nature after the interval, his Out of Woodwork a frenetic farce performed with chutzpah by his six-strong cast.

Pat (Samantha Richardson) is devastated having discovered her husband (Mike Newstead) has been enjoying an extramarital fling. Meanwhile she owes money to her smug sister-in-law (Roxanne Male), while her spoilt princess daughter Kay (Eve Bowles) demands attention and emotional support as she frets about her slacker boyfriend (Francis J Brack).

A girlie night in with best friend Lins (Geraldine Moloney Judge) descends into chaos after Pat discovers she’s won the lottery jackpot, and as the news gets out, the doorbell won’t stop ringing.

Out the Woodwork proves to be an enjoyable and entertaining – if somewhat chaotic – black comedy, complete with a couple of gasp-inducing twists and turns, and the cast evidently relishes bringing Clotworthy’s collection of ghastly, venal characters to life.

But kicking off as it does at a perilously high pitch (sometimes less is more) means there’s not much wiggle room for upping the ante as the action unfolds - or should that be unravels? Lengthening that dynamic trajectory just a little bit would allow the piece to really take flight.


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