This first London professional revival is lively but also highlights the problems with the book.
Having only being familiar with Lionel Bart’s most famous musical Oliver! it is refreshing to see the Finborough Theatre rediscovering this little known musical set in Liverpool and director Matthew Iliffe giving it a lively production. It is just a shame the book by Alun Owen needs a bit more work doing to it to make it thoroughly satisfying to watch.
Maggie May is a popular prostitute who lives by the Liverpool Docks – and refers to all her clients as ‘Casey’ until one day the original (Patrick) Casey walks back into her life and heart. What follows is story about love set in the background of working class life in the Liverpool Docks.
Throughout his production, Matthew Iliffe delivers a sharp version of the musical, highlighting particularly well the struggles of those working at the docks as well as Patrick Casey having to deal with the legacy of his father who was a famous trades union leader. There is great energy and passion to be found throughout – particularly during musical numbers such as ‘Carryin’ On’ featuring some wonderfully creative (given the intimate space) choreography Sam Spencer-Lane.
It is definitely a production that celebrates the variety of Lionel Bart’s music and lyrics to the full, ranging from rock and roll to heartfelt ballads, performed with great skill and enthusiasm by Henry Brennan on the piano. In particular, the renditions of ‘Union Cha-Cha’ , ‘D’Same Size Boots’ and ‘It’s Yourself’ are highlights of the little known score.
However, the production also highlights many of the flaws to be found in Alun Owen’s book – particularly with regards to character and plot development that leaves you feeling on the outside rather than drawn into the story. This is strongly felt during the end scene – which doesn’t lacks the power and shock that it deserves. The musical is at its strongest when it focuses on the escalating conflict between the dock workers and Willie Morgan or the warmth and intimacy between Maggie and Patrick – everything else feels a bit of a distraction.
The performances are all extremely engaging – despite the material not allowing for much development. Kara Lily Hayworth is delightful as Maggie, delivering a self-assured performance, while maintaining a lovely natural chemistry with James Darch as Patrick Casey. Darch is effective in conveying the character’s inner torment of being forced to follow in his father’s footsteps. There is also strong support from Michael Nelson as the strongly opinionated and passionate Judder and Natalie Williams as Maureen.
Overall, there is potential to this musical – but it definitely needs work to provide a stronger plot and more development for the characters to drive the story forward more. As a production however, it is entertaining to watch unfold.
By Emma Clarendon
Maggie May will continue to play at the Finborough Theatre until the 20th April.