Review: I Am Steven Gerrard at Hope Street Theatre ****1/2
‘What is a man?’ muses one of the peripheral characters in I Am Steven Gerrard, being premiered at the Hope Street Theatre this week.
It’s a question which sits at the heart of Sean McLoughlin’s hugely impressive debut play, a coming-of-age drama which examines issues of maleness and masculinity through a semi-autobiographical lens.
The one-man play, which McLoughlin developed initially during his time on a YEP Writers’ programme, won last year’s What Happens Next? writing competition run by Liverpool’s Tip Tree Theatre which is also producing it here.
Feminists have long highlighted the restrictions that come with, and fought to break apart the constraints of, regressive gender stereotyping which places rigid boundaries around women’s lives and actions.
But of course, stereotyping isn’t just a female problem. And it’s refreshing to see the thorny topic of perceived masculinity being tackled too, and in a raw and honest, often funny - but never less than compelling - fashion.
Shane (Joe Cowin) is the son of an LFC-obsessed, bluff and blokey dad who is loudly disparaging of his child’s lack of interest in football and love of telly talent shows and female pop acts like Beyonce and Girls Aloud.
When Shane makes anxious attempts to conform to a Liverpool lad ideal, things tend to go hopelessly wrong, and the wrath of his father’s emasculated-by-association frustration intensifies, driving an ever-wider wedge between them.
Add in peer pressure and the agonies that so often come with navigating puberty, coupled with a hard-felt bereavement, and it becomes a toxic mix.
Will a period of absence make the heart grow fonder? Or at least allow dad and lad to find a shared perspective and some common ground?
And will Shane finally be able to emerge from the long shadow of the heroic Stevie G, a huge mural of whom (in full Spartacus roar) divides and dominates Maisy Gordon's set?
Above and top: Joe Cowin as Shane in I Am Steven Gerrard. Photos by Andrew AB Photography.
McLoughlin explores all this with a keen eye and a brave voice in an 80-minute (no interval, extra time or penalties) verse drama whose propulsive, at times almost hypnotic, rhyming stanzas create a gripping sense of pace and energy.
There’s nowhere to hide in a one-man show, and Shane is a rewarding but challenging role to play.
But Cowin – directed with elan by Tip Tray's Amy Roberts - is in complete control of the space from the start, delivering a riveting performance as the lost young man who ploughs a different furrow.
He also creates a vivid world of peripheral characters, from a supportive great aunt to his father’s garrulous pal who, while irritating, finally helps shed some light on the nub of his parental problems.
While the rest of this run is sold out, I Am Steven Gerrard is a production that deserves a long life and a wide audience – it’s certainly one that every teenager struggling to find their place in the world, and every parent come to that, should see.