The Quiet Little Englishman

The Park Palace, Mill Street
15th-19th and 22nd-26th October 2008
£10 (£7 concessions)

Reviewed by Rosalie Priday

The sound of spinning film reels was in the air in Dingle last night, with a visual theatre feast laid on for the full house assembled at Park Palace on Park Street, Dingle for The Quiet Little Englishman.

Zho Theatre Company in conjunction with Culturepool have spent the last two years aiding the restoration of Park Palace, whose performance doors have been closed to the public since March 1959. The production itself, adapted and devised by local BBC writer Esther Wilson, conveys the unique life story of George Groves, born in St Helens in 1901, whose love for sound and the boundary breaking technology of his times helped him to become one of the first British founding fathers of talking movies in America.

Zho Theatre's gift has been the spacious grandeur of Park Palace. They've lovingly blossomed into all corners of the space, merging the visual themes of film with the inventions and live creativity of the stage; if ever there were a way of stepping through the silver screen onto the other side, then this collaborative performance would surely be it. All those involved shined in their roles, buoyed up by the wide eyed technical bravery of it all, there was a sense at times as though they'd almost joined George's fearlessness for innovation, as sound merged live with life on stage.

Outstanding performances were enjoyed by all who were lucky enough to get a ticket for the opening night, a début only briefly marred by the sadly ironic 'technical difficulties' at the very beginning of the performance, to which all were kindly rewarded with a drink for their patience. Those who lingered a little longer on the mind once the show was on included Marta Ribiero E Cunha, whose commanding presence as Brunel turned on a dime from demure Mary to the unsettling voice of conscience; Richard Heap's booming resonance around the room was excellent as an overbearing and self-important Warner Brother and Sarah Niles' comic timing and sparkling vocal abilities had everyone relieved at the chance to see the joy in what is at times the very poignant story of a Quiet Englishman who helps all those around him without a thought for his own glory but instead full dedication to his technical imagination and skill and how it could bring the cinema alive.

The only plot section it would have been nice to see developed involved George's discussions and wrangling with the Warner Brothers to take on board his sound work sooner; following Sam's threatening covetousness of silent movies, he seems very eager to talk to George after only a short time seeing his work. No doubt it would have bowled him over, but it is difficult to believe he would have been persuaded so easily and George's journey through this would have been interesting to see.

The audience consisted of several names of note, including the head of John Moores Drama Department David Llewellyn, Culturepool's Vinny Lawrenson-Woods, Esther Wilson, and, most notably, the granddaughter of the George himself, who was delighted by the adaptation and called it "a work of genius".

As we were swept along by the enveloping soundscape, a little part of me hoped that George would have approved, and might be quietly smoking his pipe somewhere with us, nodding appreciatively, yet humbly, at the living film of his life.

The revival of this performance space in Dingle hopefully represents the future to come of performance in Liverpool. In an age where technology is seeming to distance us from ourselves and each other at times with wires, mechanics and iPods, perhaps there will now be a little creative part in all of us which wants to rebel, to take to the stage, or watch others do so. The Art Organisation have had great success in doing so over the last few years in the City Centre, helping to unbridle St Bride's church from its deterioration, and breathing new life into the old Cream headquarters with Mello Mello. Tom Calderbank has had great success with 'the Belve' in Toxteth, and is still fighting for the Florrie.

Perhaps people are finally being able to see beyond the price tags and capitalisation of our City's culture for '08 and a new dawn of regeneration truly can begin.

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