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Stags and Hens by Willy Russell at Stockwell Playhouse | Review

Stags and Hens by Willy Russell at Stockwell Playhouse
Stags and Hens by Willy Russell at Stockwell Playhouse

The lads in this play, set in Liverpool, all have jobs, so Kav (Richard Danum) tells Peter (Jack Waldouck), the latter having left the North for the bright lights of London and now finds himself back for a short stint in the area where he grew up, fulfilling a booking made well in advance of apparent music fame. I note with interest that the script has been somewhat updated (a previous version, for instance, makes reference to Rolf Harris on BBC Television’s ‘Top of the Pops’, and the timeline has shifted from 1977 to 1981), though I couldn’t help wondering that had Stags and Hens been revised for contemporary times, there might well have been gender-neutral toilets at the centre of the action.

What is, in effect, a period piece of theatre (Stags and Hens dates back to 1978 but this version premiered thirty years later) came across as rather refreshing for certain members of the audience who recalled what life was like back then and might even have identified with the play. Perhaps not specific characters, but the general atmosphere created by this production where friends were able to speak freely and frankly, and if the truth hurts, that is simply a part of life. Arguably the best part is that of Dave (Lorenzo Benbassat), who has no lines in the play but is nonetheless a near-constant presence: he is due to be married to Linda (Alexa Neasham) the following day but by what may or may not be a coincidence of circumstances, both the hen party and the stag party are in the same nightclub.

I must confess this is the first time I’ve come across two camps who are so committed to preserving the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride the night before the wedding (I had previously understood the ‘rule’ to be that the groom must not see the bride in her wedding dress before she walks down the aisle, not – particularly in these days of mobile telephony and instant messaging, that the couple cannot have any contact of any kind at all).

I cannot, having never lived in the Liverpool area, vouch for the authenticity of the Scouse accents, though one or two could do with a little tightening. Overall, though, things like upward inflections and dropping the ‘g’ from the end of words are all present and correct (for instance, “Linda, what are y’ doin’ sittin’ there?”). In some ways, not much has changed – younger people (by no means all of them) still go out and dance and drink to get drunk whilst getting flirtatious with others with the same objectives for the night in mind.

Eddy (Teddy Scotchmer) is palpably disillusioned and on edge, the captain of a local football team that is also keen to be protective of his peers. That said, for a twenty-first century discerning audience there’s something a tad outdated and, dare I say it, unimaginative about a woman’s future seemingly hanging in the balance, only to be suddenly placed on relatively more solid ground by a man who swoops in and sets her straight by telling her what to do. Aside from that, it is, by and large, fun as befits the setting (of the nightclub, that is, not the conveniences therein) of this energetic show.

As someone who often finds background sounds in a show distracting, I remain in two minds whether a little more noise from the nightclub proper wouldn’t have gone amiss. Personally, I rather liked being able to concentrate on the dialogue unencumbered, but others may disagree, with justification – one would reasonably expect to hear the muffled sounds of a throbbing nightclub’s music to be more prominent in a production of this nature, particularly whenever the entrance/exit door opens. The costumes are worth observing, too – very much of the era. Perhaps ironically, I needed a stiff drink after watching this rather eventful production, which, by the way, isn’t exactly family viewing.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s 1981. LIVERPOOL.
STAGS AND HENS takes place in the Ladies and Gents Toilet’s of a decaying 1980’s Liverpool Dancehall.

Newly Wed’s to be – Dave and Linda – unbeknownst to each other, have both decided to hold their Stag and Hen Parties in the same venue.

Fuelled by bucket loads of Baby Sham, Black Velvets and an unquenchable appetite for for drama…

The evening takes a sharp turn away from the merriment, and in Willy Russell’s unmistakable style, the play combines comedy with acrid truth, and hits off brilliantly the herd instinct driving both sexes onward and bed-ward.

Can anyone escape the pre determined future’s written for them?

A bleakly funny and wickedly perceptive study of communities, puritanism, waste and the hedonistic opportunities of the 1980’s.

Lively, coarse, well-organised, truthful and very funny.
The question is…
Will they be at the Church On Time?

Stags & Hens
Booking to Saturday, October 26th 2019
http://www.stockwellph.com/

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