Royal Court 80th Birthday Party

Date: 02/10/2018

And a very Royal Court time was had by all… the Royal Court may be 80 years old but it’s the latest iteration – as a venue for comedy and theatre – that was celebrated in a night that hailed the past, celebrated the present and looked to the future.

As well it might. Things have rarely looked rosier for the Royal Court. The venue has been throughly renovated, including the pub next door, once one of the grottiest corners of Liverpool, a cafe area constructed and basement venue opened. Money has been ploughed back into the building and its less tangible products: a youth theatre, a community choir, a lunchtime social club, a Summer school, a playwriting prize, a theatre company dedicated to promoting BAME talent…

The Royal Court may have some a kind of theatrical alchemy in its revitalisation of this building and a genre of populist theatre. But this revue of the last 12 years shows it’s no coincidence. It’s been on the back of hard work, a well-developed understanding of a gap in the market and an offering that no other theatre could, would (or maybe even should) offer.

From quick wins – stage adaptations of Bleasdale, Russell and Godber – to a finely-honed knockabout, knockers-out farce that could only really work in Liverpool, the Royal Court has identified genres for which there seems to be an endless appetite. You could almost play bingo with the references: Chippy teas, Smokie Mo’s, Wirralites and Kopites.

Of course, throwing all these ingredients together would count for nothing, were it not for a fine de facto repertory company, able to turn material that might not have been solid gold stuff into theatre that glisters. Pauline Collins, Alan Stocks, Keddy Sutton, Mark Moraghan, Eithne Browne, Drew Schofield, Stephen Fletcher, Lindsey Germain, Paul Duckworth, Francis Tucker and Michael Fletcher have been the backbone of the Royal Court over the last ten years, both on stage and off, and all are present tonight.

They serve up little vignettes of past shows – Nicky Allt’s Brick Up The Mersey Tunnel, arguably the originator of the scoueploitation genre the Royal Court has embraces – gets three airings, with episodes from The Royal, The Scouse Nativity and Mam I’m ‘Ere also along for the ride.

Amid a cast of scene stealers it’s hard to pick out highlights, but Alan Stocks’ sozzled Father O’Flaherty and the three-headers from Brick Up – starring Eithne Brown, Drew Shcofield and Tucker – are masterclasses in ad libbed, noises off fun. The Wirral trio certainly do their best to force the others into corpsing.

The Christians play a couple of well-received songs, Paulien Collins delivers a lovely monologue from Shirley Valentine, Sam Avery has some finely-observed comedy to impart. But it’s Les Dennis who delivers a heartfelt eulogy to the theatre, to Northern working-class pursuits and to Ken Dodd, immortalised here in a new plaque unveiled by the widow of Knotty Ash’s finest.

Dennis ties together all the various strands of the Royal Court’s history and its present. None of it would have got off the ground, however, were it not for the Royal Court’s incredible success in packing out an 1100-seater venue with offerings of theatre that has something of the music hall about it.

And so it proves tonight: a cabaret of laughs, music and heritage rolled up on one. But fundamentally, fittingly, with a knees-up.