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Review: Books, Theatre, Albums, Movies and Gigs

King Cotton

The Empire Theatre, Liverpool
September 25 – September 29

Author: Jimmy McGovern & Ian Brownbill
Director: Jude Kelly
Producer: The Empire Theatre, Liverpool & The Lowry, Manchesyer
Cast includes: Paul Anderson, John Henshaw, Israel Oyelumade, Wendy Mae Brown, Kirsty Hoiles, Paul Barnhill, John Elkington
Running time: 2 hrs 30 mins

Image: King Cotton promotional poster

Jimmy McGovern’s first play for the stage in something like twenty years – and his first musical – is without doubt up there amongst the best things he has ever done. King Cotton, a story that focuses on the struggles of the Lancashire Cotton Mills at the time of the American Civil War that saw many mills come under threat of closure, and the plight of the slaves themselves, is filled with passion, emotion, fantastic dialogue and superb performances from all involved, on a set that is both effective and fantastically simple.
In short, seeing King Cotton is an event on a scale of Les Miserables and a play that should be seen again and again, by people everywhere.

Image: Wendy Mae Brown as Jessie in King CottonWith a musical score that fuses English northern Brass Band beauty with deep south American Gospel quite magnificently, it is the actors – many with multiple roles – who make the show what it is. Not least of these is Israel Oyelumade who in playing Sokoto deliveres a performance that is so powerful, it is difficult not to believe he is going through his torments for real.

Also, John Henshaw – star of After Hours and The Visit on TV – is quite simply the most down to earth God you are ever going to meet. Henshaw delivers the laughs with sparkling ease and so feeds the actors around him with lines that should not be missed, although his first appearance – though brilliant – is something of a distraction from the storyline itself.

Superb too are Wendy Mae Brown as Sokoto’s heart broken wife, Jessie, and Kirsty Hoiles as Tom’s wife, Emma, who both deliver songs and performances that are stirring and moving by degrees. In multiple roles that are as diverse as Lincoln, a slave owner and the captain of a northern states frigate against the SS Alabama.

It would be quite simple to carry on eulogising but King Cotton, without doubt, is the best new show to have hit The Empire in a very long time and deserves to have a much longer run whenever it is that it makes a return.

A fabulous night’s entertainment that is guaranteed to see you swap allegiances at every turn.

Click here to view details and book for the Liverpool Empire Theatre



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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