By Angela Ferguson
It still feels like a bit of a novelty to head out to watch some live theatre. Is it just me or has the pandemic brought home just how important it is to be able to get together with other people in a communal and happy space?
I’ve missed the welcome distraction of the theatre, and since lockdown restrictions have eased I have steadily been filling my boots by enjoying some superb performances from local theatre groups such as AgainstTHEGRAIN Theatre Company and Chester Little Theatre. And this felt like another happy little step on the journey of rediscovering the magic of the theatre.
I’ve missed my numerous visits to Storyhouse, which is part of the beating heart of the artistic and cultural scene in and around Chester. And so it was that, after a busy day at work, I picked up my friend and we set off into the centre of Chester to enjoy a dose of escapism, with a side portion of gritty northern drama.
There was the usual warm welcome at Storyhouse as the audience gathered in the wonderful kitchen area to ready themselves for a bit of escapism, in a world that can all too often drag us down and stress us out at present.
And with the help of the talented cast and crew of Tim Firth’s latest production, the intriguingly titled Now Is Good, we set off on a winding road to some poignant moments.
I must admit that, as a child of the 70s, it was something of a thrill to be seeing Michelle Dotrice performing as the feisty former trade union rep, Ivy. To me, she will always be the Betty to Michael Crawford’s hapless Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
She was a commanding presence on the stage, as she, like so many other characters in this comedy musical, went on their own journey of self-discovery and how to learn from those around us.
One of the key themes of this production is loneliness, which is incredibly poignant given that so many have gone through lockdown and beyond without speaking to a soul, or not face-to-face, at any rate.
There were different generations all coming together, and all breaking into song from time to time as they explored love and life on the high street. I am in awe of talented actors who can also sing, dance and play instruments, and all in front of a live audience. Elizabeth Counsell as Alice gave as good as she got in terms of a vast array of comedic facial expressions as she gracefully danced around the stage on her mobility scooter.
Special mention must also be made of the talented young members of the Storyhouse youth theatre, who are taking it in turns to perform each night, until the run comes to an end this weekend.
I also loved watching Jeff Rawle as the stubbornly rebellious Ray, who turns his home into a medieval jousting salon to entertain visitors young and old alike. He and his health and safety officer son, movingly portrayed by Chris Hannon, were a great comedy double act.
It was heartening to hear laughter echo throughout the theatre during the performance. The pair parried beautifully as they weaved their way through the premise of turning an old bank into a new home for Jeff, against a backdrop of loss that was briefly alluded to.
Step in a charismatic and upbeat primary school teacher Katy (Alyce Liburd) and her merry band of pupils, and there was the golden opportunity to teach old and young some important life lessons, with some gritty music and wry comedic observations along the way.
The plot may have been a little weak in places, but there were enough funny and tender moments in turn to hold my attention and give me some food for thought when it comes to the important stuff in life – love, contentment, helping others and making time to enjoy biscuits and have a damn good laugh on a regular basis.
It was a fittingly tender production from Tim Firth and Storyhouse. And my friend and I came away with a smile on our faces, having enjoyed a welcome evening escape in the heart of Chester. Thank goodness for live theatre and the arts. Long may they reign, providing a welcome comfort blanket as we journey through this drama called life.
To book tickets for Now Is Good, which runs until Saturday 28 May, visit https://www.storyhouse.com/event/now-is-good.
Photos: Mark McNulty