Review: Twice Nightly at Royal Court Studio ****
Ahhh, the smell of the greasepaint…the roar of the crowd.
Treading the boards is an addictive, if precarious way to make a living, as the plucky pair of fictional thespian troopers at the heart of this rather charming musical comedy know all too well.
It’s 1931 and the theatres of Liverpool are packed with all kinds of variety turns who entertain audiences ‘twice nightly’ with song and dance routines, magic tricks, ventriloquism and bizarre novelty acts.
On these stages, and in the dingy dressing rooms up narrow staircases, dreams are made – and dashed.
After a decade in the business, winsome variety partners and Bootle's Metropole Theatre regulars Don Dunne (Michael Alan-Bailey) and Madge Doyle (Maria Lovelady) know all about those highs and lows, but still keep a smile plastered on their faces and a spring in their step. In the glare of the footlights at least.
Off stage it’s a different matter. Because it seems the times are a-changing, and the world Don and Madge know and love is under threat from a silver screen dominated by entertainers like a certain former Eight Lancashire Lads clog dancer called Chaplin.
We first meet the hot-hoofing double act performing a cheeky comedy number about a couple of mask-clad, swag-carrying burglars who sing: “The 20s were roaring but the 30s are dirty.”
Soon they are up before The Beak (voiced by Joe Pasquale) in real life too, accused – much to their evident bemusement - of an unspecified crime.
It’s a conceit which allows them to relate their professional life story, from their first meeting to their current predicament, via a residency at none other than Paris’ Alhambra Music Hall.
Above: Madge (Maria Lovelady) and Don (Michael Alan-Bailey). Top: With Roy Carruthers as The Great Wally. Photos by David Munn.
While Don and Madge bicker and boost each other, and in between deliver some amusing routines (including a song poking fun at regressive gender stereotypes), Roy Carruthers has evident fun as, variously, a weary theatre employee, irascible policeman, sardonic strongman and as The Great Wally – a fading magician who speaks in Gyles Brandreth tones and whose sidekick is a frisky male parrot who goes by the name Cordelia.
Writers and performers Alan-Bailey and Lovelady gave the show an initial try out at the Liverpool Theatre Festival back in 2021, when it won best new production, and this new version which is touring this spring builds on that success.
There’s bright direction from Waleed Hammad, and the talented Jessica Dives has created some delightful and authentic-sounding original songs.
It’s true it could still do with some finessing around the edges, and there’s a big, declamatory speech towards the end about the escapist appeal of theatre which feels a little on the clunky side.
But it’s evident Twice Nightly has been lovingly and appealingly crafted to evoke both the feel of the era and the ‘show must go on’ spirit of theatre folk everywhere. And it’s lovingly and appealingly performed too.