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Chris High reviews: Liverpool Empire 'Two Pence to Cross the Mersey' 2005

Two Pence To Cross The Mersey

Eleanor Bron, Jamie Clark, Garth Bardsley, Melanie Jessop, Gary Cargill
Written by Rob Fenah (from the novel by Helen Forrester)
Directed by Ian Kellgren

Liverpool Empire Theatre
25th October, 2005

Twopence to Cross the Mersey reviewed here by Chris High


It's always good when a show comes home. Adapted from the best selling novel by Helen Forrester, Two Pence (pronounced Tuppence) To Cross The Mersey, has made rivers of acclaim to rival that of its namesake across the theatrical world and, on this showing, few can blame it.

Depicting Helen Forrester's young life following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, is a little like tracking the history of the world. So many people were affected that it's difficult to imagine the world reaching the depths of such depression today. But the Forrester family did - and survived. This is their story, and those of who surrounded them, and it is told with humour, poignancy, guile and humour from beginning to end that demonstrates the spirit of the City to a tee.

Oh, and the songs that relate the tale are priceless.

Eleanor Bron as narrator Elder Helen may, rightly, be regarded as the star of the show, but it is her alter-character, young Helen played by Jamie Clarke, who steals the show. Here is a burgeoning talent of such high proportions that it is difficult to see the end of her rainbows. This young lady filled the theatre, not only with her strong voice, but also with her stage presence. Her triplet with Melanie Jessop (Mother) and Garth Bardsley (Father) during "Being Born" would steal the highest of lights in any show, anywhere and brought rapturous applause from all those who heard it here.

But it is not only the stars who excel; the hard graft of Gary Cargill, who plays 3 major roles, alongside that of Susan Twist, who plays another 3 with great humour, exemplifies the professional nature of the ensemble.

Which is not to say that the stars themselves do not shine brightly; Eleanor Bron is as stately and austere as one might expect from an actress of her standing, whereas Melanie Jessop is the very image of hypocrisy that one might expect from the wannabe middle-classes of the period. Ashamed to be at the level to which she has sunk, Jessop's performance cannot help but to instil sympathy and angst in equal measure, for her character's inability to cope alongside her dogged determination to survive.

This is a must see show of the highest proportions. It holds atmosphere and melancholy aplenty, true, but also reeks of humour and hope that should be a lesson to all of us who forget our history to our peril.

Nobody makes it out of the slums and forgets the taste of sour milk and Helen Forrester, Rob Fennah and this cast should be roundly applauded for reminding us of the fact so astutely.

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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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