Stags & Hens 2008...
Feb 13 2008
Willy Russell’s Stags & Hens was written 30 years ago and to celebrate, the writer has literally remixed it but it still retains the wit and the many other ingredients that make it such a memorable hit play.
Staged in the Royal Court in Liverpool, it immediately feels authentic as this venue is not known for its plays - comedy and gigs being the main events previously. So this unique space means that you can eat here and bring drinks to your table if you are lucky enough to be sat in the stalls.
You are transported back to 1977 and the setting is a Liverpool nightclub - complete with dodgy lights, smoky rooms and drunken revellers. A stag do is in full swing and following a curry - the lads decide to hit the club. The only problem is the girls are in the same dive.
Bride and Groom on wedding’s eve
Should never the other one perceive
For if they do they’ll live to see
A marriage without harmony
Linda (Rachel Rae) starts having doubts as she and her friends dance the night away. Meanwhile, the groom to be Dave (Kris Mochrie) has passed out in the gents’ lav, surrounded by his mates.
With the wedding less than 12 hours away, will the arrival of Linda’s old flame - musician - Peter (Stephen Fletcher) put a cat amongst the pigeons? The fun of this fast paced play is finding out whether our heroine will get to the church on time or whether she will break away from her mates’ dreams and ideas.
The performers bring a funny but edgy quality to this excellent comedy/drama and each one of them deserves praise as this really is an ensemble piece. But Rae is superb as the bride to be with cold feet; you really feel for her as a result. Fletcher and this gifted actress have genuine chemistry making you believe in their plight. Gillian Hardie is a scream as head girl Bernie - the scary leader of the pack. As for the lads, they too are wonderful but Lenny Wood is ideal as awkward Billy, the one least likely to cop off.
Russell’s writing still has a bittersweet flavour after all these years and director, Bob Eaton gives the play the pace and respect that it deserves. Mark Walters’ grimy set featuring his and hers backstage quarters and the back entrance to the club serves as a superb backdrop to this brilliant revival.
Glenn Meads - WHATSONSTAGE.COM
Feb 7 2008
Things ain’t what they used to be and people today are more likely to jump on a jet to Amsterdam to celebrate their last night of pre-marital freedom, than they are to go to their local club.
Thank goodness then that Willy Russell hasn’t “updated” Stags and Hens, but rather rewritten parts of this snapshot of a period, so it still works as well - although with much more of a contemporary feel.
It’s 1977 and Linda (Rachel Rae) and Dave (Kris Mochrie) are getting married in the morning. Dave is legless when he enters the seediest club in town and forced into in the gents with his head down the bowl.
In the same club Linda, the feisty wife-to-be, and her mates are getting drunk, dancing and trying to pull. Add to the cocktail a returning old flame on the way up, light the blue touch paper and stand well back.
This is classic Willy Russell - lots of subtlety, some moments of inspired genius and an underlying message summed up best by The Clash all those years ago, should I stay or should I go, that has been formed into something so much more by director, Bob Eaton, and this superlative entirely Liverpool cast.
The pick of which, in mind of equality, are Keddy Sutton, playing the dithering Maureen with such superb timing it is difficult to imagine anybody else in the role, and James Spofforth as the disillusioned Eddie, Dave’s best mate, who has an edge to his character that is both deeply disturbing and highly likeable.
Excellent, too, is Gillian Hardie as Bernie, the archetypal seventies married woman out on the pull, and Danny O’Brian as Kav, the highly talented yet naive artist.
With an effective split stage set, outstanding writing, superlative direction and fabulous performances all round, Stags and Hens is a play that remains a great deal of fun and is guaranteed to have audiences chuckling and empathising with everyone on stage. Tremendous stuff.
CHRIS HIGH - THE STAGE
Feb 7 2008
If great art is supposed to hold a mirror up to society, then Stags & Hens is the perfect reflection of the Liverpool we live in.
The punchline? Willy Russell's acclaimed script was written back in 1978, when setting a play in the toilets of a club was akin to ... well, nothing is taboo anymore really, is it?
The 2008 version is a 'remixed' one, according to the press releases, but little has changed upon first glance - Russell himself, admitting that the pace of the play has quickened and the language brought up-to-date, but that's about it.
Which is great news - as the script is still as sharp as ever.
Observational, fearless and honest to the extreme, Stags & Hens may sometimes come on a little strong for some (the opening 30 minutes are filled with enough 'effing and blinding to bring Mary Whitehouse back from her grave), but Willy Russell has never ducked the big issues.
The story centres on the relationship between hen Linda (a brooding Rachael Rae) and stag Dave (who remains unconscious throughout!) - but the real meat and potatoes come from the reactions of their various friends, to the problems thrown-up on the proverbial last night of freedom.
Linda bumps into old flame Peter (Stephen Fletcher) - back in town from London with his punk band - and old passions seem to be re-kindled.
Her friends, manipulated by a glowing Suzanne Collins performance, try to convince her that it's just nerves playing their part, but the audience knows something deeper is at work - thanks, in part, to a violent performance of denial from James Spofforth, as the bullying Eddie.
Hilarious one moment (Kevin Harvey's Robbie nearly steals the show a few times, especially when the lads enter the women's toilets), but heartbreaking the next, Stags & Hens is the type of play that will take a few people on a journey of self-discovery - if they want to look closely enough.
But, it's great if you just want a good laugh too - as the more (the little) things change, the more (the big) things stay the same.
Alan O'Hare - Liverpool.com
Feb 6 2008
NOSTALGIA ain't what it used to be. Photographs fade and memories become air-brushed. We are all left with what might have been.
Willy Russell's re-mix of his own classic drama proved he really is a playwright for all seasons.
He tweaked 75 per cent of the original. The happy, entertaining fact is - it hasn't dated. A Liverpool nightclub in 1977 is the focal point for two tribes going to war.
Five girls out on the town; five lads out, too, drinking and dancing aimlessly in the same dingy club. The stage is split into an upper balcony disco entrance where the music of Leo Sayer and Abba blurt out while in the toilets the girls make up - and fall out.
Linda is having her hen party. Dave is not staggering but totally out the game.
The first half is full of the early evening false bonhomie of nights out that many of the audience relate to.
Part two is livelier and sobering. Linda meets old flame Peter booked to do a gig. She could have gone with him once but she didn't. She was that close . . .
There are faultless performances all around in this brilliantly executed ensemble piece courtesy of director Bob Eaton and assistant director Eithne Brown.
Maureen (Keddy Sutton) is a real joy just like Su Pollard on acid and Billy, played by Lenny Wood, was another of those characters we've all met that Willy Russell paints so well.
Stags & Hens is 30 years old.The Royal Court is 70.
This is a marriage in theatrical heaven.
Peter Grant - Liverpool Daily Post