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Review: Books, Theatre, Albums, Movies and Gigs


Until July 19 2008

Image: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi Promotional Image

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website

This new musical fizzes like a well mixed champagne cocktail.

Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi is full of zappy dancing and melodic tunes. It’s a well crafted piece of work with sharp dialogue and great pace, and the cast dance and sing their socks off.

The whole show is a feel-good, old-fashioned musical – but with a scouse twist. It’s a tale of romance and secrets with innovative choreography and a fun-filled score. The mix of west end stars and Lipa graduates ensure a good night out.


The revolving set is magnificent- now a beautifully chandelier-lit ballroom, next a scaffolded structure up to the roof.

And it is on the roof where the nub of the story takes place. The premise is a flash back to the 1930s-40s where the female manager Alice and her lover Thompson (Simon Bailey), who has gone to fight in the Spanish Civil War, pledge to meet on the anniversary of their ‘near engagement’.

The story is a mix of the present and the past, cleverly interwoven by writer and producer  Phil Willmott. First we see the young Alice (Julie Atherton) and later the older Alice (Natasha Seale) with their lover Thompson. Both also take other roles, but clever direction, accent, dialogue and costume make the transition convincing.

We see this famous hotel in its heyday, a sumptuous palace for the rich, with the below stairs skivvies working hard to keep the wheels turning. The Adelphi owner, Lord Rothmere (Neil McCall) sees the future as ‘Liverpool’s time’ and plans to refurbish the hotel for the coming Hollywood stars on their way to London, the great port of Liverpool, and his hotel, being their staging post.

The aspirations and optimism reflected in the songs are resonant of present day Liverpool and its long-awaited resurgence. But we also see the back street mothers hanging their washing on the line, the sheets cleverly picturing the poverty stricken reality of the masses.

But back to the action. The stage is awash with vibrant jazz age flappers in satin, feathers and furs, and also Hollywood elite including Roy Rogers and his ‘horse’ who actually stayed at the Adelphi whilst appearing at the Liverpool Empire. The choreography in the hands of Andrew Wright is a triumph.

There is quick-witted scouse humour –  such as ‘I’m sweatin’ like Coleen in the MetQuarter’, and many local references to the Dingle, Crosby, Formby etc, which generate many laughs.

But there are also dark moments – the arrest of a German kitchen worker (was this Hitler as rumour suggests?), the blitz of Liverpool, and the attempted importuning of Thompson by an RKO film producer in his opulent Adelphi suite.

However, the optimism persists and with innate scouse resolve the ending is generally happy except for one poignant – and important –revelation, which to tell would spoil the  denouement of the whole show.

Jeanette Smith

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website



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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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