Review: Our Lady of Blundellsands at Liverpool Everyman ****1/2
Jonathan Harvey’s hotly anticipated new play Our Lady of Blundellsands was dealt a blow when its premiere run was cut cruelly short by Covid last spring.
But you can’t keep a good story down. And now the production has finally returned to the Everyman stage not, strictly, to complete its run but to start a new one.
Despite the 18-month hiatus, half the original six-strong cast have returned to designer Janet Bird’s shabby house by the sea where they are joined by three new faces under the lively direction of Nick Bagnall.
Together they create a piece which while very obviously the same play also feels remarkably fresh too, with an extra vividness brought to the tale of the deeply dysfunctional Domingo clan.
Sylvie (Josie Lawrence, reprising the role) and Garnet (Joanne Howarth, new for 2021) are the ladies of Blundellsands, middle-aged sisters living a quiet and confined life together with their memories and – it becomes apparent - their secrets.
Memories and secrets over which, as Her Majesty might say, "recollections may vary".
Lawrence is luminous as Sylvie, a manic burst of theatrical colour fizzing brightly in the faded surroundings of their shared home – truly the Norma Desmond of the Sefton coast.
But while hers may be the showy, bravura role, Howarth also shines as the quietly practical, kind but careworn Garnet who is both her fragile younger sister’s enabler and protector, and their complex relationship is beautifully drawn out by the two actors.
Above: Our Lady of Blundellsands. Photo by Gary Carlton. Top: Josie Lawrence as Sylvie. Photo by Mark Brenner.
A birthday party with a purpose sets the scene for a family reunion where sparks fly and bitter recriminations are aired, not least by Sylvie’s brittle eldest son Mickey-Joe (Mickey Jones), a south coast drag queen who is already in the middle of a protracted falling out with his long-term boyfriend Frankie (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) when he arrives.
The party is completed by the secretive Lee-Lee (Nathan McMullen), Sylvie’s prodigal youngest whose “Peter Pan was the talk of the Neptune”, and his open-as-a-book girlfriend Alyssa – Gemma Brodrick delivering the character’s filter-less world view in glorious deadpan fashion.
Harvey has a keen ear for both the witty and the absurd, and the dryly clever one-liners which punctuate the script - think Oscar Wilde meets Alan Bennett meets Coronation Street (for which he’s a regular writer) – are real crowd pleasers.
But from Ancient Greece onwards, theatre’s most rounded, compelling stories have embraced all human emotion with comedy and tragedy equal partners in the equation.
And while there are many, many moments of high comedy, high drama (and high camp) in Our Lady of Blundellsands, beneath that Harvey’s story is also a meditation on lives wasted, opportunities lost, dreams unfulfilled and desperate choices made.
Thus, while the first half comes down in the midst of a melodramatic maelstrom, the play’s final moments are instead touchingly tender and peaceful.