Review – Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre

Monday 22 March 2010

You know, sometimes it isn’t easy being a Whinger.

We do not complain.

But sometimes you find yourself in one of your favourite little theatres watching a group of enthusiastic young people giving it their all, belting out tunes, dancing their socks off and even acting from time to time and you just think, “Oh”.

You particularly think “oh” when so many people have enthused about it.

Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi is a musical written and directed by Phil Willmott and currently playing at the Union Theatre, apparently following a previous sell-out extended run at the Liverpool Playhouse and having garnered a TMA (Theatrical Management Association) Award in 2008 for Best Musical Production. But we just thought, “Oh”.

There must have been about 20 people on the tiny stage (and another 20 in hobnail boots running around in the overhead dressing room) which, rather than being impressive, was quite sad, like watching zebras in a too-small zoo enclosure. They were all young and enthusiastic and they smiled a lot but either they needed bigger lungs or the band needs to pipe down because we couldn’t hear much.

It’s complicated but basically the show tells the story of an employee of Liverpool’s famous Adelphi Hotel in the 1930s who falls in love with an irritating Scouse cheeky scamp who the Whingers wanted to slap but was apparently irresistible to the ladies. There is also a present day and parallel story in which a male hotel employee was trying to persuade a female hotel employee to move to Japan with him (a sub-plot which, to be fair, justified itself by producing the funniest line in the show – “Come and look at my Lonely Planet” which the Whingers laughed at although no-one else did for some reason). To make it even more confusing the present day woman and the 1930s woman are played by the same actress although the ghost of the 1930s woman in the present day is played by someone else.

None of this would really matter except that OUATATA transgresses the Whingers’ first rule of musical theatre: that the numbers should not hold up the show, but carry it along. In Mister Willmott’s show everything stops for a musical interlude. The inconsequential and irrelevant revelation that one of the characters once worked in a cinema is excuse enough for a big song and dance number called “Show Tune” with the lyric “You can’t beat a musical comedy show tune” after which the subject is dropped entirely and the show lurches in search of the next musical theatre cliché. And on top of all this, wouldn’t Lord Rothmore know the difference between “you and me” and “you and I”?

Perhaps we were just in one of our moods. Perhaps we’re just not Margi Clarke enough. It did seem a bit Brookside at times and its insistence on celebrating Liverpool (“It’s Liverpool’s time again”, “It’s so beautiful”, “It takes your breath away”, “D’you hear that Liverpool?”, “this city beats inside I love its heart and soul”, “Liverpool’s recovery begins”) probably went down a storm as a local show for local people but the effect on the Whingers was to convince them they need never go there again.

Though Phil’s always quite fancied a trip to The Adelphi since seeing the fly-on-the-wall documentary series about it years ago. No, not that Adelphi, you understand, the Whingers won’t be setting foot in there for quite a while. There’s probably a restraining order preventing them even going near the place anyway.

But certainly the crowd seemed to enjoy it very much. Perhaps they were all Scousers? The costumes (Geri Spencer) were impressive and so was the choreography by Andrew Wright (although it did need a bigger space to play in – one of those mops is going to take someone’s eye out, you mark our words), there was impressive harmonising and you can’t deny the energy and enthusiasm.

But on the plus side we met theatre blogger Gareth James for the first time, had a good old chin wag with him and with the mother and sister of Sacha Regan (owner of the Union Theatre and one half of Regan De Wynter (“producers of fine theatre”).

We were also thrilled to discover that the Union is experimenting with PREMIUM SEATING by which you pay an extra £2 and get a good seat reserved for you with your name on it. Now, that’s a premium seating we can endorse.


Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary

13 Responses to “Review – Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre”

  1. Colour me shocked and corrected – I figured this sort of loving old fashioned fare would be right up your alley.

    Glad to see I’m not alone in my thoughts about it though.

  2. TooCloseToTheTable Says:

    Do they still read out a long list of Liverpool place names set to music?

  3. garethjames Says:

    …..but my ‘premium reserved seat’ had been stolen by a poor person, presumably secreting the sign ‘Gareth James’ about their person (I wonder where?) and I was left with the last seat in the house.

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I’m just savouring the acronym OUATATA.

  5. jmc Says:

    “the Whingers’ first rule of musical theatre: that the numbers should not hold up the show, but carry it along.”

    Surely you make an exception for the Hollywood number in Too Close to the Sun?

  6. Adelphite Says:

    But.. But… the Hollywood number sets up that the lead character’s a fantacist, doesn’t it? And not only that, that he can dupe the Hotels entitre kitchen staff. It’s a way of establishing his relationship with the truth and the world around him.

  7. Carrie Says:

    I was disappointed with it too (my review – )

    I am really starting to miss Too Close To The Sun. At least I knew what I was getting with that. And was guaranteed laughs.

    • carrie and westend wingers are dumb Says:

      jon paul hevey is from liverpool how can his accent slip…and i would like to see both west end wingers and fatty carrie get up and do what those perfromers did..i suppose it’s easy to get bitter when ur old

      • Yes, indeed, those wingers. What are they like?

        Thank you for sharing your dream with us, but I doubt that we would be very good on the stage as neither of us is an actor or a singer (I can’t speak for Carrie of course). But thank you, that’s sweet.

        But you have rightly pulled us up and we shall all try much harder in the future to raise our game by borrowing your lexicon of critical terms: dumb, bitter, old etc. Watch this space.

        And yes, it is easy to get bitter when you’re old. I’d judge you’re about, let’s see, 96?

      • Carrie Says:

        It slips to mid-Atlantic drawl. But thank you for sharing your clearly extremely carefully-considered thoughts. I’m sure the wingers are equally grateful.

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