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Sign Of The Times

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson, Tom Shaw
Liverpool Playhouse, April 6-11 (On tour until June 6)

Author: Tim Firth (Flint Street Nativity, Calendar Girls, A Man Of Letters)
Director: Peter Wilson
Producer: PW Productions
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins

Review: Carole Baldock

Sign of the Times  Promotional Image

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website

Listen carefully, for I will say this only once: Alan Ayckbourn. Right, that’s that out of the way; just to point out, Tim Firth also has the knack of selecting le mot juste when it comes to titles. On the other hand, this is a pretty difficult play to review, without giving the game away and spoil the pleasures in store. Let’s just say, it lives up to excellence of the title (and then some, in an age where ambition and the pursuit of happiness are not always quite the same thing), and comes complete with happy ending.
So what can I tell you? Well, Frank, pedantic gaffer, has been responsible to putting up signs on buildings for quarter of a century, and now he’s saddled with a sullen hoodie on work experience. But though Alan has a lot to learn, it turns out that he can teach Frank a thing or two.
Starting off on the windy roof of a building, they painstakingly put a new sign together; the second half takes place in a scruffy office behind a company’s sign – and watch out for that logo. The clue by the way is in the reversal, the change in outlook. And although not much happens, to the extent that the point of high drama at first seems literally farcical, it’s Tim Firth’s wondrous way with words, the wit and drollery and sharp observations which capture your attention.
Plus, and what a plus, the amazing double act which holds it and keeps things going. Stephen Tompkinson, a delicious mix of pomposity and knowingness, draws every ounce of sympathy for the kind of man who initially seems the type who makes you hold your breath and silently utter a prayer that he isn’t headed your way. Similarly, Tom Shaw is the lad you would cross the street to avoid, if you didn’t suspect he could be a bit of a nerd.  There is so much more to both of them, gradually and craftily revealed. Frank is that cursed creatures, a would be thriller writer but aware that he is gifted with ambition though not talent. This not quite Salieri however generously encourages Alan’s considerable abilities, not just in music but art as well. And by gum, Tom Shaw is an ingenious foil, with hidden depths allowed to surface; plenty of evidence that he should be at the start of a career path every bit as lofty as his partner’s.
A Five Star “p” through and through. Yes, that’s ‘p’ as in ‘production’. And ‘u’ as in ‘unmissable’.

Carole Baldock has been widely-published (non-fiction, poetry and prose), with enough poems over the years to fill a drawer.  Her pamphlet, BITCHING, is now in its second edition and her first full collection, Give Me Where to Stand, is due out this year from Headland.  Books include Writing Reviews and How To Raise Confident Children. Formerly Coordinator of Liverpool’s Dead Good Poets Society, she is now Editor of Competitions Bulletin as well as Orbis, a renowned international literary journal of over 30 years’ standing.  Available for readings and workshops:  The A-Y of Getting into Print.  Anything, at Any level, (almost) to help You succeed.

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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