Liverpool hasn’t exactly been short of plays written about how mad for it the city is of late. The One Night In Istanbuls and Brick Ups of this world have meant that, if anything, the Scouseploitation genre is pretty oversubscribed.
The terrible title and the ‘night that will never be forgotten’ tag spoke of another entry, so we approached Dead Heavy Fantastic with some trepidation. But while the set-up and some touches might suggest another production of “Ey lad”s and “Fuckin’ ‘Ell!”s, the similarities to the lower end of the theatre ladder are purely cosmetic.
What we have here is nothing less, at first glance, than a full-blown scouse farce, with a hapless protagonist at the centre of a spiralling vortex of events thoroughly beyond his control, experience or understanding. Frank begins his night with a lonely hearts meeting with saucy Cindy, a cheeky coquette, and leads to Vince; a dangerous, messed-up but thoroughly-engaging promoter/nightclub-owner/dealer.
Alan Stocks’ Frank and Con O’Neill’s Vince are brilliant in the play: the former all hangdog looks and fumbling social awkwardness is a thoroughly decent sort who’s perpetually bemused by the situations he finds himself in; the latter a borderline lunatic who manages to keep the loyalty and love of those around him despite his dodgy behaviour and selfish outlook. Also worthy of note are Samantha Robinson as Cindy – pitiful and adorable by turn – and Helen Carter in two scene-stealing roles and another noteworthy Everyman performance.
The play is a superior and engaging knockabout farce, but it loses a few strands along the way. Why Vince is perpetually pursued by Stephen Fletcher’s twitchy accountant is not really apparent and Frank’s romance with Michelle Butterly’s Maureen felt shoehorned. Musical interludes don’t always work, while numerous characters played by David Carlyle are, while well-played, simply irritating and smack of the tiresome ‘scousey play’ genre.
But while Dead Heavy Fantastic could have been an amiable, enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours it turns into something altogether more interesting in the final act – and the multimedia backgrounds interact with the players to startling, unsettling effect in the excoriating conclusion, damning the very Liverpool nightlife that it had appeared to celebrate through the preceding hour.
It turns Dead Heavy Fantastic into something else entirely, and while it makes for a strangely disjointed ride it’s as intoxicating, amusing and disturbing as Frank’s own in the final analysis. Dead Heavy Fantastic is a clever, entertaining response to the Liverpool-orientated productions we’ve seen recently – and while it could be staged anywhere and rings true throughout our society, it’s also a thought-provoking meditation on Liverpool and its people.
Dead Heavy Fantastic