Review: YNWA Let's Talk About Six, Baby at Liverpool Royal Court ****1/2
It’s more than a decade since writer – and ardent Red – Nicky Allt turned his attention to the small matter of the history of Liverpool Football Club.
What became You’ll Never Walk Alone sprang from just one moment in that history (the legendary 2005 win in Istanbul) which Allt had already turned into a successful stage play.
Eleven years – and one delaying pandemic - later, YNWA returns to the Royal Court stage in a fourth iteration with updated references to the era of Klopp. Word has it there was an even newer version ready to go if Liverpool had lifted a seventh Champions League trophy.
While it may be tweaked around the edges to keep it current, what Allt’s passion project retains in spades is heart and the sense of pride and community which has bound the club’s fervent fanbase over the ups and downs of the last 130 years.
Style-wise the show, performed on terraces in front of a big screen topped by the Shankly Gates and with an on-stage band, sits somewhere between oral storytelling and a rousing musical revue, utilising both Kop favourites and adapting numbers like Pete Wylie’s Heart as Big as Liverpool and the Strawbs’ Part of the Union.
The plot, such as it is, centres around the grieving Kelly family who gather at Anfield with the ashes of their late grandad Tommy before retiring to the pub (the Twelfth Man) to bicker and to reminisce about key moments in their beloved Liverpool’s history.
Jake Abraham as Gerry and Mark Moraghan as Tommy. Photos by Jason Roberts Photography
Lenny Wood reprises his role as the gormless Kenny who needs schooling on the ins and outs of the Liverpool story, while newcomer Lydia Morales-Scully impresses as his exasperated sister Tia (named after This is Anfield) who is the font of all Liverpool knowledge.
From the moustachioed early days when John Houlding broke away from Everton there’s a canter through the first 60 years of the club taking in foul-mouthed goalkeeping great Elisha Scott, the foundation of the Kop, a vaudeville turn from Mark Moraghan as a wartime Arthur Askey, namechecks for post-war heroes Billy Liddell and Albert Stubbins and a neat running gag about not winning the FA Cup.
The arrival of Bill Shankly to rescue a club languishing in the Second Division prompts spontaneous applause from the audience who practically recite those legendary lilting Shankly homilies along with the cast.
Adam Keast, Lindzi Germain and Lydia Morales-Scully. Photo by Jason Roberts Photography.
Shanks, who resigned in 1974, may have revolutionised both team and football itself, but the club’s most successful years come in a second half which features a cast of Liverpool legends (and a rather cruel visual gag at Peter Beardsley’s expense).
“Now this will take a while,” Jake Abraham’s Bob Paisley deadpans as a list of trophies and titles won under his stewardship scrolls by on the big screen.
While there’s an enjoyable vein of larkiness which runs through the show, the dark days of the 1980s with the twin tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough are sensitively handled – and Lindzi Germain’s quiet devastation as a mum grieving her teenage son remains the best work she has ever done on the Royal Court stage.
Elsewhere, it undoubtedly helps if you’re a Red to appreciate some of the Liverpool FC ‘in jokes’.
But even if you’re not, it’s hard not to get swept along with the general euphoria – or to be emotionally invested in the surging passion of the chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone which gets the audience on its feet in the closing minutes.