Theatre

Twopence To Cross the Mersey At St Helens Theatre Royal Review

TICKETS TO SEE THE SHOW WERE GIFTED TO THE REVIEWER AND GUEST FOR THE PURPOSES OF WRITING THE REVIEW.

Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison

Helen Forrester’s Twopence to Cross the Mersey is a best selling memoir chronicling Helen’s introduction to Liverpool. It has been brilliantly adapted by Rob Fennah into a heart-rending and emotional stage play and is now showing at St Helens Theatre Royal.

Originally born into an upper middle class family living in Cheshire, Helen’s life is turned upside down in her early teens when, following the Wall Street Crash her family loses everything and heads to Liverpool hoping to rebuild their fortune. When Helen’s parents and her 6 younger siblings arrive in Liverpool they are shocked to realise how tough life is actually going to be.

It quickly becomes apparent that Helen’s father, John, is like thousands of other men, going to struggle to find work or decent accommodation in the poverty stricken city. Whilst her siblings are enrolled in school, Helen is made to stay home and help her mother take care of the little ones. Helen’s mother, Celia is a thoroughly unlikeable character who is brought to life superbly by Lynn Francis. The fact that you can dislike this snobby, uncaring woman so much is testament to the wonderful casting.

As the play goes on the effects of living in squalor and poverty become visibly apparent as the characters’ clothes become shabbier and worn. It is hard to not be moved by this stark representation of how hard life was for so many during the Great Depression. As well as the wider misfortune the play highlights Helen’s individual struggles as she fights for her right to an education and to be seen as a person rather than just an unpaid servant whose only purpose is to support the family. The role of Helen was played by Jenny Murphy, whilst her performance was very good I did find that at times I found it hard to connect to the characters feelings of sorrow. In part I think this could be down to how the characters lines were often delivered as if they were being read directly from the original book.

This could be a very hard to watch, bleak performance however there were many moments of light relief, mainly provided by the rest of the small cast who played over 40 different characters between them. Daniel Taylor and Chloe Mcdonald particularly had the audience laughing as one character but then were also totally believable as more serious characters. The story is also one of hope, despite the situation Helen finds herself in there were many times where the kindness of others shines through. From the policeman who helps provide the baby’s milk, to the neighbour who gives gifts at Christmas and helps the family cook their Salvation Army parcel, to the Old Man in the park who inspires Helen to fight for more, to gain an education and to have faith that things will get better.

Overall I enjoyed this play, I did feel that at times it was a struggle to connect to the emotional side of the characters. Whilst it was very moving to see how tough life had been I didn’t find the play captured the individual story in the same way the book did.

Rating: 4/5

Tickets cost from £25.50 plus 50p transaction fee.

Twopence to Cross the Mersey is at Theatre Royal St Helens from 27th September to 1st October 2022, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sthelenstheatreroyal.com or call the box office on 01744 756000

St Helens Theatre Royal Corporation Street, St Helens, WA10 1LQ

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