Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels and Lost Soul




Eaton puts the soul back into comedy

There have been amazing scenes at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre where the comedy Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels has been attracting the sort of enthusiastic audiences not seen in the city for years. They cheer, they dance on the tables and generally go a little mad.

Several reasons have been put forward for the success of the Liverpool comedy, not least the contributions of writers Nicky Allt and Dave Kirby and a superb cast.

But it also has a lot to do with the director Bob Eaton, a man who has returned to a city where he last triumphed some 25 years ago.

The Derbyshire-born Eaton was artistic director at the Liverpool Everyman for two years where his first show, Lennon – which he both wrote and directed – was an enormous hit. He went on to direct other successes including Willy Russell’s Our Day Out.

It was the success of Lennon, however, which finally led to his leaving town. When Sid Bernstein, the American promoter who took the Beatles to Shea Stadium, saw the show he told Eaton he could take it to the USA.

“I was a bit sceptical but he did put it on in New York,” says Eaton. “It went into a large off-Broadway theatre, but unfortunately I could not take the Liverpool cast because of American Equity rules. As a result, the show did well but not well enough for the proposed Broadway transfer.

“But I fell in love with the New York thing and left Liverpool.”

Today, Eaton admits it is one of the biggest regrets of his life that he did not stay. But he did well enough, running London’s Bubble Theatre, becoming artistic director at the Belgrade in Coventry and freelancing.

“Then, out of the blue, Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels came up.” He was surprised to learn it was going on at the Royal Court Theatre – he had memories of its bad old days – until writer Dave Kirby took him to see the new-look Royal Court. “I went to see it and I was blown away. Every time I go in it takes my breath away. It’s magical.”

Last year, a three-week run of Brick sold out and this year’s revival – with the same cast – is doing equally brilliant business with a longer run.

Eaton will not be going away quite yet. He is currently rehearsing a second Dave Kirby comedy Lost Soul which will follow Brick, and working with Kirby on a revival of his own musical, Good Golly Miss Molly, which will also get a Royal Court premiere.

Lost Soul, which opens on August 31, was staged in Liverpool once before, even before Brick opened, at the city’s small Unity Theatre, where last year it had a sell-out three-night run. I reviewed it as “one of the funniest Liverpool plays in many a long day”.

It is the story of two middle-aged couples going through something of a crisis. The two men, old friends, spend their Sundays on Liverpool’s lively 1970s soul scene recapturing their youth. Their regular visits to the pubs playing the music are threatened when the wife of one of them starts an affair with a bouncer and his friend worries over his well-being.

Eaton has put together another tremendous cast, including Andrew Schofield as the concerned friend Smigger and Neil Caple as the betrayed Terry. Eithne Browne and Lindzi Germain play the wives, while some of the Unity cast return for their roles including Jess Schofield (Andrew’s daughter) as a flighty, self-centred club-goer.

“In a way, it is a better play than Brick Up,” says Eaton. “There is more human depth and reality to it but it is also very funny and has the same quality of humour. It’s probably a more universal play than Brick, which is so local that it almost hurts.”

But there are plenty of references to real Liverpool places, including pubs and the now defunct Chequers Club, in Seel Street, which we see in hilarious flashback with the couples playing themselves in the 1970s.

There is also an unspecified trendy bar in Wood Street. “It’s a clash of cultures between old and new Liverpool, bars and pubs.”

There is also a lot of soul music from the 1970s featuring artists like Sam and Dave and Al Green “and all that Shaft stuff”.

Eaton will go then straight in rehearsal for Good Golly Miss Molly, his rock and roll musical about people fighting to keep their homes with a Liverpool twist.

Lost Soul is at the Royal Court from August 31 to September 29

Philip Key

Liverpool Daily Post - August 17th 2007


© 2007 Kathryn Martin

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