Unlike a fine wine, a great article is not bettered by a good journalist leaving it to brew. Luckily, I do not consider myself a good journalist, nor this a great article, thus after an almost two month hiatus, for which I can only apologise and hope to be forgiven, here is the review of the Ticket To Write Festival.
The delay of this article’s publication is in no way reflective of the event, which was fun, exciting and a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Entering the Unity Theatre foyer to pick up my ticket, I smiled to myself as I recognised the choice of song blaring out of the speakers, The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride”, of course. As I walked past the bar and into the theatre I was met with a heaving audience, roaring with excited chatter. The theatre was packed, filled with friends and family of the writers, actors and directors as well as throngs of Beatles fans. After a short speech from festival organiser Jamie Gaskell, welcoming the festival judges Clare Dow, Ian Kellgren and the third judge, the audience, the plays began.
The evening began with “Face in a Jar” by Rob Taylor, a slow and sombre adaptation of the song Eleanor Rigby. The plot follows the Priest and Verger at a Liverpool church facing the news that their parish is being dissolved and their church closed. Despite two fantastic performances from Eryl Lloyd Parry (Priest) and Geraldine Moloney Judge (Verger), the narrative development was minimal and the script, in my opinion, could have benefited from more ruthless editing. I must admit that, at times, I felt that song lyric details and sentiments were inserted rather clumsily into the dialogue, most notably the Verger’s reflection on the grain of rice-like insignificance of human lives, which seemed forced and at odds with her character; and unfortunately the titular “Jar” was completely lost on me. However, I did enjoy the ambiguity of the intentional or accidental death of Eleanor Rigby, it added an intriguing lift to the end of the play.
Mention must be given to those responsible for the costume and remarkably versatile set design – Heledd Rees and Sophie Borsnoll – for their impressive work throughout the productions, as well as guest director Kate Treadell for maintaining pace and interest.
“the Apple has spoken”
The second play to be performed was the lighthearted comedy “Stalking the Beatles” by Maureen Brady Johnson, excellently performed by Kate French, Lucy Griffiths, Ellie Turner and Siofra McKeon-Carter and co-directed by Rio Matchett and Darren Begley. The play follows four friends camping outside a hotel, waiting to see the Beatles in 1960s America. As promised, friendship was as integral a theme as the Beatles themselves, bringing a warm and charming tone to the play. Special mention must be given to Turner for her superb performance as Patti, whose delivery and physical performance were hilarious. Although, once again, the script could have done with some editing, but with such lines as “the Apple has spoken”, after twisting an apple stork to determine the first initial of the men they’ll marry, and debates about who the ‘cutest’ Beatle is, the comical and excitable performance was enjoyable to watch and well countered the gravity of the play preceding it.
After a short interval, the third play “Your Are Lennon”, by Patrick Maguire, rounded up the evening very nicely. Following the love story of John Lennon’s parents, the disintegration of their relationship and its effect on a young John, the play was well balanced with elements of tragedy and comedy in good measure. With fantastic performances from Jane Hamlet, Rhys Williams and Claire Crossland, who, appearing as if ghosts, recounting the events of the play to a silent and presumably adult John Lennon, the play had a timeless and reminiscent quality that leant itself well to the sometimes large jumps in time. The narrative, on the whole, developed smoothly and coherently, despite an odd and slightly uncomfortable transition between Lennon’s conception and birth. Perhaps my favourite of the productions, due to its early humour and the heart felt ending of Freddy Lennon’s last goodbye to his son John (tenderly acted by Williams), the play closed with a resounding chorus of “Hey Jude”!
In fact the whole night was full of brilliant music, not just the great selection of tracks playing pre-performance and in the interval, but also the fantastic live music provided by Michael Cook on guitar and vocals. Each play was accompanied by a Beatles song, whether directly linked to the play, as in the case of “Face in a Jar”, or a reflection of the plays’ themes: “Stalking the Beatles” ending with “With A Little Help From My Friends”.
As well as Cook’s superb accompaniments, the Festival was enhanced by a performance by the musical director of Local Vocals, who performed three songs about Liverpool, including “My Liverpool Home” which went down very well with the audience.
But. Let’s not forget, this was a competition, and after an impressively speedy tallying of the scores, Gaskin returned to the stage, met with whistles and applause to announce the winner. With a score of 27 in first place came “You Are Lennon”, followed by “Stalking The Beatles” (23) in second and “Face In A Jar” (19) in third place.
Speaking to winner, Patrick Maguire, amazement and elation emanated from him as audience members and actors bombarded him with congratulations, handshakes and hugs. Maguire described his “personal connection” to the story, and the parallels between John Lennon’s childhood and his own. He expressed his pride that his play had even been performed as part of the Ticket To Write Festival, let alone had won. Maguire was also incredibly grateful to the actors, directors and those at the Unity for bringing his script, his vision to life.
Together, music and drama truly triumphed in creating a very enjoyable evening for the Beatles lover in all of us.