How much of Liverpool is yet to be colonised by Royal Court productions? With My Fairfield Lady (a Scouse take on Pygmalion and an inspired title) on its way and Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels, A Nightmare on Lime Street and Hitchhiker’s Guide To Fazakerley in the past it’s as if the theatre is laying claim to swathes of the city. Alongside them, Yellow Breck Road is something of a curiosity.
Yellow Breck Road is written by Gerry Linford, who wrote The Miracle Of Great Homer Street – runner-up in the Hope Playwriting Prize, subsequently staged at the Royal Court and starring Les Dennis. That was a an unusual mix of comedy and pathos too, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that Linford’s new play giddily swaps locations between terrace on Breck Road and the surface of the moon.
Yes it has plenty of toilet humour and ‘soft lads’ – the familiar mise-en-scene of a Scouse family bantering fondly. Young Dot has agoraphobia, a smartphone addiction and a demanding Nan – Eithne Browne’s eggbound Nora. Dad Billy is a lovably feckless Liverpool Dad with a heart – and without a bean. Long-suffering Mum Carol is juggling a shit job with a family secret while her brother, genial dickhead Barry, is kipping on the sofa and fiddling the lecky.
There’s a baddie too – local-boy-made-good but gone bad Barry, the family’s landlord. It’s reminiscent of The Royle Family – an impression hardly dispelled when Rick Tomlinson is sat laughing in the audience nearby.
So far so familiar. But when Dot electrocutes herself and slips into a coma she awakes to find herself a quarter of a million miles away – with only Barry, incongruously fixing a toaster in time for Buzz Aldrin’s brekkie, for company. Worse, there’s no phone signal.
It’s pretty high-concept given what we’re used to. Throw in Dot’s low-level anxiety disorder (Linford is a lecturer, so presumably sees a lot of this) and a running theme of compassion trumping material success and there’s a lot going on.
When Dot electrocutes herself and slips into a coma she awakes to find herself a quarter of a million miles away on the moon – with only Barry, incongruously fixing a toaster for Buzz Aldrin’s brekkie, for company. Worse, there’s no phone signal.
This makes for an intriguing production – and there’s a spectacular set that contrasts the front room of the family’s house with a massive lunar landscape – but it does occasionally get in the way of the humour which, even for the Royal Court, does have a lot of material on Nora’s bowels.
There are superb grace notes however: Barry The Astronaut explaining why people used to answer landline calls with their telephone number to his baffled niece; Dot desperately trying to get a signal, oblivious to the gigantic plant Earth looming in the background; Billy and Harry enjoying a pint in a flashback – while sat on the moon set – observing that there’s ‘no atmosphere’ is a great example of the groanworthy punning at which the Royal Court excels. A flashback to the childhoods of three of the cast is a winning evocation of Blue Remembered Hills.
Yes there’s a happy ending. But it’s a bit of a letdown given what’s gone before, when it seems the moral of a story is that sometimes you have to thump someone in the face. But perhaps it was the most obvious way to redeem this production’s cowardly lion.
The combination of the family melodrama and detour to the moon – turning the play on a sixpence – is bold storytelling that pitches Yellow Breck Road somewhere between Red Dwarf, Brookside and late-80s sitcom curio Watching.
It’s not entirely successful as the transitions between the different elements feel jarring – and you have to really squint to spot the Wizard Of Oz motifs. But it feels refreshingly different and the production makes it clear: we’re not in Kansas any more.
Yellow Breck Road
Royal Court Liverpool
Until 2 March