The Liver Birds was a hugely popular and ground-breaking British sitcom set in Liverpool which first aired on TV in 1969 running for ten years, enjoying a brief revival in 1996. The series was created by two local trailblazers: Carla Lane and Myra Taylor, who met each other at a local writers club in the city.
During this period in the male dominated world of British comedy writing, it was unusual for women to have a voice, but Michael Mills, BBC’s then Head of Comedy, commissioned Carla and Myra to write a comedy about two girls (Beryl and Sandra) sharing a flat in Liverpool, and the rest is history. The Scaffold, a pop group which included Mike McCartney (brother of Beatle Paul) and poet, Roger McGough, sang the title song, and the name of the series came from the liver bird statues which sit atop the Royal Liver Building looking out across the River Mersey.
Rolling forward through the mists of time to the present day, and the new musical, Liver Birds Flying Home written by Barb Jungr, George Seaton and Linda McDermott, begins with Beryl and Sandra meeting for the first time in 40 years outside the flat they once shared, having had no contact in the intervening years.
Directed by Benji Sperring, it’s a clever premise to have the narrative set both in the present day and the 70’s, dividing the musical into short scenes, which seamlessly moves the story backwards and forwards in time. The younger Beryl (Nicola Munns) and Sandra (Lucinda Lawrence) are a joy to watch as they inject the same feisty spark, hope, vibrancy and humour, mirroring the original TV characters played by Nerys Hughes and Polly James. This has been achieved by a stunning split-level set by designer, Mark Walters. On the top level we see the flashback 70’s scenes complete with fun mini skirts, knee-length boots, platforms, flares, big wigs, rainbow-coloured polyester and velour galore. On the bottom level, in complete juxtaposition, the two older women played magnificently by the respective, Joanna Monro (Sandra) and Lesley Molony (Beryl), appear more frosty, enveloped by an air of suspicion as they awkwardly rediscover their friendship which we come to learn, ended on bad terms.
Beryl’s boyfriend, Billy (Mark Rice-Oxley) is the only man on stage, playing several roles wth equal aplomb, and his deftness at changing costumes gives the appearance of at least two more male players in the cast.
The musical score is one of the true stars of the show. With lyrics by Barb Jungr and musical composition by Level 42’s Mike Lundup, together they have created poetic lyrics and a score that soars as high as a Liver Bird. Liverpool Standing Tall is a memorable rousing tribute to the regeneration of Liverpool over the years, and Balloon Stuck In A Tree is a truly wonderful poignant song which emphasises the painful fragility of friendships.
There is something for all ages here; those who remember the TV series and have great nostalgia for it, and newer audiences who may not have any prior knowledge of the show. Times and styles may have changed but the dreams remain the same.
Liver Birds Flying Home is an intelligent, perceptive and beautiful homage to the universal themes of friendship, hope and love.
Liver Birds Flying Home runs until 12 May 2018 at the Royal Court Liverpool.
For further information or to purchase tickets, visit here.