Life at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight

Posted on 4 October 2016
By Chris High
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In a small village on Wirral, something magical has been taking place. That something is the latest musical drama created by Brian McCann, Life, the host theatre is The Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight and the cast are quite simply superb.

We join Veronica Shuttle, her mum, dad and younger brother when Veronica is just six years old then follow her along on Life’s journey. Encountering joy and sadness, triumphs and disasters, Veronica encapsulates everything that Life is about and then some.

In the leading role is Suzanne Collins, whose deeply passionate portrayal is like a breath of fresh air. Every nuance and mannerism encapsulates not only the persona of Veronica, but also that of just about every child and adult to have ever lived an ordinary existence. That Ms. Collins is on stage throughout the production and in turns has the audience in tears of joy and heartache, is not only testament to her own fine acting abilities but also to the power of McCann’s penmanship.

Also superb is Lenny Wood who, in Lesley, has been a provided with a role he can really get his teeth into. At first, Lesley is the archetypal Mr. Beige who falls head-over-heels in love with Veronica, only to find that Spring must always give way Autumn then finally Winter, as the first flush of passion gives way to something rather chillier. Wood is superb in controlling not only the atmosphere but also the character of Lesley as a whole and in the end delivers arguably the performance of his career to date.

Lesley Butler as the firebrand mum and Roy Brandon as the almost horizontally laid back dad are manna from comedy heaven. With their quick witted repartee and immaculate timing, this is a couple we all might wish we had as parents and by virtue of their being together on The Gladstone’s stage, so does a bright beam of sunlight spread our way.

Lynne Fitzgerald, as always, is more than good value. As the either the curmudgeonly grandmother at Christmas or the sassy but not so brave schoolgirl, Shelly, the Desperate Scousewives doyen times everything to perfection and never fails – through the odd flick of the hair there, a twist of the features there or the killer delivery of a line up front – to hit the mark.

In Samuel Raymond Heller and Edwina Lea – both of whom are fresh from stints in another Brian McCann composition Moggies: The Mewsical – Active Drama have found true potential. Playing multiple roles is never easy, but these two never faltered and so turned in performances that more than belied their comparative inexperience. Two stars in the making for sure and add just a little bit more stardust on what is already a show that glitters from beginning to end.

Packed with laughter, trickled with tears and bursting with exemplary performances from all of those involved, Life is a force of its own and – with a story that evokes simply so much empathy it is as though it tells all of our stories – is a musical drama that is easily one of the best productions I have had the privilege to watch this year.

The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight
September 28 – October 1
Author / Composer: Brian McCann
Producer: Active Drama
Cast: Suzanne Collins, Lesley Butler, Roy Brandon, Lynne Fitzgerald, Samuel Raymond Heller, Edwina Lea.
Running Time: 2 hours
PR Rating: ***** Life In A Night

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