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Review: Haunted Scouse at Royal Court Liverpool ***1/2

Gerry Linford has trodden a prolific playwriting path since he won a ‘highly commended’ award at the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize back in 2017.

His entry, A Prayer for St Cajetan, was repackaged as The Miracle on Great Homer Street and premiered at the Royal Court in 2018 with Les Dennis among its cast.

Since then, the former substance misuse support worker has penned practically a production a year for the theatre, with this amiable, knockabout (quite literally at times) comedy about life after death his sixth show to hit the Royal Court stage.

Charlie Moon (Michael Starke, in energetic form) may have shuffled off this mortal coil, but he hasn’t yet shuffled out of the home he shared with wife Molly (Lynn Francis, warm and gently melancholy) for 35 years.

Something is holding him back from vanishing beyond that final heavenly gate in Patrick Swayze fashion…finding out exactly how he died. Oh, and preventing slimy next door neighbour Gordon (Paul Duckworth) from getting his feet under the Moons’ kitchen table.

If Charlie’s memory of his demise is hazy, so is his now oft-sozzled wife’s. Molly isn’t quite sure what happened on the fateful day 12 months ago when Charlie went out to trim the privet and ended up lying dead on the living room floor, but she fears she might be responsible.

Above: Paul Duckworth as Gordon. Top: Charlie (Michael Starke) and Molly (Lynn Francis). Photos by Jason Roberts Photography.

Add in a hippy, dippy New Age neighbour with questionable chakras (Julie Glover) and Charlie’s no nonsense Auntie Peggy, dragged back from the afterlife to guide her confused nephew through limbo (with a few clips around the ear along the way) and the stage is set for a series of ghostly goings on and general spooky silliness.

The plot merrily nods towards both 1990 cinematic weepie Ghost and clever BBC comedy Ghosts as Charlie slowly learns the rules and restrictions of limbo land and how to manifest himself to his not-so-merry widow, first as a pungent smell and then in spirit form.

Above: Linda (Julie Glover) and Molly (Lynn Francis). Photo by Jason Roberts Photography.

As with his 2019 play Yellow Breck Road (which also starred Duckworth and Francis), Linford explores the idea of relationships and the enduring power of love. But here those themes have to jostle with a broad slapstick delivery – complete with plenty of lewd innuendo and celebration of bodily functions.

Linford’s characters are enjoyable but writ large, and Duckworth in particular has a whale of a time chewing the scenery as baddie Gordon who has designs on grieving Molly’s body and bank account. All his character is missing is a twirling moustache and a cape.

Duckworth throws himself into physical contortions Rik Mayall would have applauded, and while it’s not exactly subtle it’s certainly crowd-pleasing.

Above: Charlie (Michael Starke) and his Aunt Peggy (Helen Carter). Photo by Jason Roberts Photography.

Similarly, Julie Glover channels her inner cosmic hippy as the ‘psychic’, well-meaning Linda whose home brewed teas appear ever more revolting and pronouncements ever more ridiculous, although her character becomes more sympathetic as the evening progresses, not least due to a neat line in needle sharp put downs.

Helen Carter meanwhile shimmers in gold as a sultry, smoking, torch song singing guardian angel guiding Charlie with carrot and stick firmness towards his deathly destiny, with fine voiced musical interludes along the way.

At the heart of the piece however are the death-divided spouses, and the fact Starke and Francis are real life husband and wife offers the audience an enjoyable extra dimension when watching the fictional relationship played out on stage.

It does take a while for the show to find its groove, but once it does it offers its audience a cheerful and drolly entertaining astral journey with a poignant final destination.


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