Twopence to Cross the Mersey
A gritty and heart wrenching tale of life in the 1930’s depression in Liverpool.
Helen Forrester’s million-selling book “Twopence To Cross The Mersey” has been brilliantly adapted by Rob Fennah and directed by Gareth Tudor Price and brings a tale of financial hardship, stress and dispair which sadly feels all too real for the current climate.
Set in the 1930’s, Helen’s spendthrift father John (Mark Moraghan – Holby City) has been declared bankrupt and, after selling their beautiful middle-class home, dispensed with their servants, and nannies and made the trip from the South East up to the harsh reality of Liverpool. Expecting to find the city of his youth, he is devastated to be one of the thousands signing on for the none existent jobs. His wife Celia (Lynn Francis – The Lie is Dead) refuses to accept any responsibility for their predicament, her post-natal depression just adding to her disfunction; everyone else is to blame and in particular she pushes caring for the children onto 12 year old Helen (Jenny Murphy – Cilla -The Musical)
Following through Helen’s eyes, we face her struggles to be the carer, childminder, nanny, maid, all the while desperately missing her friends and the learning environment of school. Her inept parents refuse to recognise she deserves the chance to learn, instead forcing her to run the household while they immerse themselves in their unsuccessful attempts at finding work; money being so tight they have to accept handouts and charity which jars with Celia’s pride (in whose eyes Helen is nothing but a selfish, ungrateful child).
Whilst out walking (and trying to avoid the local bullies) Helen meets an elderly gentlemen in the park who is the first person in years to take an interest in her and, more importantly, give her a sense of belief. Emboldened by this new courage, she again challenges her parents around her lack of schooling but sadly they have no intention of losing their unpaid ‘slave’. As the months progress Helen’s resentment grows and she questions whether the struggle is even worth it but, remembering the kindly gentlemen she finds some reserves of strength.
As a note, Twopence to Cross the Mersey refers to the cost of the Birkenhead ferry, a journey which could have taken Helen across the water and to her wealthy, but estranged grandmother – sadly for her, she never has twopence to spend so that dream of family salvation could never materialise.
The cast and ensemble provide a huge tapestry of characters; dole queues, police, dockers, landladies, clergy, railways are all presented in stunning detail, seamlessly moving the scenes along and keeping the audience deeply invested. Specific mention goes to Daniel Taylor, a long time, much admired actor who is perhaps best known for Blood Brothers, Chloe McDonald (By The Waters of Liverpool) and Roy Carruthers (Good Cop, Sparkle) whose chameleon abilities present over 20 different parts.
Director Tudor Price hits the notes perfectly, it is neither too sentimental, nor too absurdly bleak. His direction and Lynn Francis’ portrayal of the mother Mrs Forrester is a perfect example of how to elicit emotion from an audience; at the interval there were many comments of just how awful, hideous and spiteful Celia is.
Twopence to Cross The Mersey is touring throughout the autumn, finishing at the Epstein Theatre Liverpool in mid November.