Shiverpool – Ghost Bus

This weekend we made use of the competition prize I had won during the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic‘s most recent prize draw on Facebook. So David and I wrapped up warmly and made our way to the Suitcase Monument in Hope Street to embark on the Shiverpool Ghost Bus.

Shiverpool bus tour

Shiverpool bus tour

It was a clear, yet windy night, perfect for haunting stories and ghostly apparitions.

When we got to the monument there were already lots of people waiting for the bus which arrived a little late, (typical of the buses in Liverpool!) :p However it was nice to listen to the harmonious bells of both cathedrals, at opposite ends of Hope Street ringing into the dark evening as we stood waiting.

In hindsight perhaps I should have booked a tour on a weekday as town on Saturday became busy with revellers and the roads chocked with traffic.

When the bus finally arrived it was a red double decker and looked impressive.

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Our tour guides for the evening were a duo of ‘brother and ‘sister,’ both lightly joked with the passengers who were all asked to go upstairs on the bus. This was by no mean feat with heels and an ankle length dress which I wore. The staircase was narrow and the steps uneven and in darkness was a bit of a safety hazard! The deck below was commandeered for a hen party from Ireland who held the tour up by 10 minutes!

While the bus waited for the late comers, the tour guides bantered with the passengers, asking where everyone lived. David and I had been the last to go upstairs and ended up seated at the back! We were, on more than one occasion singled out as a couple on a date. Apparently ‘I had made an effort’ on my toilette. Why thank you! 🙂

David and I have been on many ghost tours while holidaying in Edinburgh so the Shiverpool Ghost Bus had a lot to live up to!

The tour took us around the beautiful Georgian Quarter of Liverpool, visiting Rodney and Huskisson Street. The guides spoke of George Huskisson who was the first person to be killed by a steam engine at the Edge Hill trials and unknown to me Huskisson Street was also the home of Florence Maybrick who was charged with the death of James Maybrick, A.K.A. of Jack the Ripper fame.

The 90 minutes or so of the tour flew by and unfortunately the stories the guides narrated were rattled out at such a lightening speed that come to recap the experience, I am finding it hard to recall some of the tales. One such story, as we pulled alongside the leafy Falkner Square was about child murders and witches.

The tour was punctuated by the appearance of ‘ghosts’ who seemingly had come to life as the stories were recounted. The first appeared while we were parked outside St Bride’s Church, off Catherine Street. It was of a young bride to be, who was buried alive in the grave yard. The actor was dressed in white with a veil covering her face. She silently walked around the bus before being scared away by the tour guides. The creepy part of these ‘apparitions’ was looking out of the back window to see them just standing on the pavement silently watching as the bus drove off!

There was however a downside to having other actors joining us along the journey. This was, that while they were terrorising the passengers, as in the case of an angry drunkard tearing through the bus, you didn’t get to hear the story. So I missed a lot of the narrative due to this.

One good thing that came from the tour was a greater appreciation of the city and it’s architecture. Liverpool is indeed beautiful! The bus drove past the Anglican Cathedral, the biggest in the UK, and took us along the waterfront to see the Albert Dock and the Three Graces all lit up!

At one point in the tour we had to get off the bus. We all stood huddled together outside the iconic Royal Liver Building whose clock face is bigger than the Elizabeth Tower clock, ‘Big Ben‘. Here, outside the old insurance building, the guides told us a tale of poison and fraud. The silliest part of the night was when one of the guides got a gentleman to re-enact the symptoms of arsenic poisoning! Chronic diarrhoea and all!!

However let’s not forget that the tour tickets were free and it was something different to do from the usual humdrum routine of a Saturday night. It’s just sad that the stories were really not that engaging, nor scary enough! We have been on better ghost tours!

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Fun and frolics!

Saturday, though not as epic a day as Good Friday, was in itself an eventful day.

After shopping, gardening and preparing dinner for the evening (more roasted carrot and garlic soup), David and I took the bus into town, to the Liverpool, Everyman Theatre. We went to see the matinee of their new production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And what a dream it was, though in places rather nightmarish. I say nightmarish in a good way, as the just under three hour production did not have me reaching for the razor blades. I mean nightmarish in the fact that the woodland scenes were less bucolic, more atmospheric. If you have ever walked in a shaded wood you will be familiar with the tense, tingling feeling of supernatural nervousness. In this Liverpool Everyman production, the faeries are featureless, clad in a black stockinged garb, looking rather menacing in fact. The mischievous Puck was like a ringmaster and it made you think that all the heightened drama between the love sick couples of Hermia/Lysander and Helena/Demetrius was all for Puck’s amusement.

The last play David and I saw at the Everyman was their opening show, Twelfth Night. That was filled with music and laughter and this production was no different. The stage design, though rather austere was effective, as was the use of lighting. The forest scenes were sparse with a mirrored wall giving the impression of a ‘360 degree audience,’ with scrunched up paper littering the floor resembling the mass of leaves and their sound as they were stepped upon.

The backdrop however is irrelevant as the performance of the cast members was foremost. On leaving the theatre the name on many a tongue was Dean (a young Brian Blessed) Nolan’s Bottom, (in one scene he left the audience red with embarrassment and young children giggling with glee), however the entire cast was strong, both seasoned and young actors played their parts well.

For the spectator the three hours filled with much magic and humour flew by. I have not seen another production of this play to compare but I say if you have a ticket to this play, then you will not leave the theatre disappointed.

The Guardian’s Review.

‘If…’

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‘…music be the food of love, play on,’ says Orsino from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; or What You Will! 

This production was the much anticipated opening play of the ‘new’ Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.

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*Spoiler Alert: If you are intending to go to see this play then don’t read on…*

It also happened to be one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, so I just had to go! I had booked the tickets since November 2013 and grown increasingly excited as time drew closer to the event, the 21st March 2014!!

Alas that date has now come and gone too readily but the memory of seeing the first performance in the new Everyman leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy!

The building itself has an organic feel to it, perhaps something to do with the bare bricks featured in the walls? I read on their website that they had kept 25,000 bricks from  the old Everyman and interposed them into the new building. The new Everyman looks crisp and clean and bright!!

On our arrival, (as I dragged David along with me) we were welcomed by one of the ushers who was smiley and helpful, pointing us to where we should go, (the theatre was upstairs!). I bought a programme, and at £3.50 seems to be the going rate nowadays.

We made our way into the auditorium and found that our seats were on the stage! I knew the Everyman had retained it’s thrust stage, (where the audience  is seated around three sides), though I thought it would be a bit like the Crucible in Sheffield, but no! The entire front row sits on the boards of the stage!! A little too close to the action for comfort? We found that that was not the case, I think we had the best seats in the house!!! 🙂 The cast utilised the space on the stage really well and we could see all that went on, not like when I went to see The Winter’s Tale in Sheffield and found that a lot of the cast stood with their backs to the front!

Twelfth Night seems to have been an inspired choice for the first performance, for a reborn theatre in a city ankle deep in culture! The play’s themes of love, loss and reunion is interlaced with an abundance of mirth!! I don’t think I have laughed so much during a performance of a play, as I did during Liverpool Everyman’s Twelfth Night! The whole cast were top notch! There were the heavy weights of TV and theatre, Matthew Kelly (Sir Toby Belch) and Nicholas Woodeson (Malvolio), but there were also, (obviously) a lot of talent from the region. With a very able Jodie McNee as a convincing Viola, Pauline Daniels as the impish Maria and Paul Duckworth who for me was arresting as the fool, Feste! Not just because he pranced around camply in heels and make-up, but because his character seemed to grow in stature throughout the play! Natalie Dew was entertaining as Olivia, her comic timing was exquisite and Adam Keast as Andrew Aguecheek reminded me of Rik Mayall in Bottom!

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Photos by James Maloney.

The stage was relatively austere. I liked the shards of glass on the floor, perhaps mirroring the different aspects of the self? I think Twelfth Night looks at the self and persona and how we project that to other people. It is highlighted by Viola’s words, ‘then think you right: I am not what I am!’ Hanging from the gantry there were orchids in flower pots and at the back of the stage there are revolving frames where foliage peeked out. 

The performance even had a pool of water in the stage floor where Viola and the captain sprung out breathlessly at the beginning of the play. A nice touch, however I think for the rest of the performance the actors were aware of the perils of falling into it. (Perhaps they could have covered it up?) Even those seated in the front row, (one even with a dislocated toe) were weary when the cast members strode between them and the pool and at other times were put on guard when Sebastian (Luke Jerdy) rode around the stage on his tandem! That said tandem almost caused a catastrophe in the final scene where Viola and Orsino, riding into the ‘sunset’ almost careered into the pool! It spouted laughter from the cast and audience alike and highlighted the knowledge that the actors all seemed to revel in the merriness of the play.

For me the first part before the interval was more enjoyable than the second. The second being more mischievous in the mockery of Malvolio. Thankfully there were no power cuts that marred previous performances! The comic element in the first part seemed riotous at times. You could tell that this was the first production of a brand spanking new theatre! With the cast singing (the songs were given a modern lilt), The 12 Days of Christmas, throwing a big present for the audience to catch and the offering of treats! It all seemed very celebratory! Even one member of the audience was caught up in all the mirth as before him was a trolley laden with jellies! Malvolio (Woodeson) shouted to the man ‘get your hands off the jellies!’ The audience member took it all in his stride and even hid his head in his shirt for shame! There was much fun and laughter to be had by all and I seemed to sit throughout the three hour plus performance with a constant smirk on my face! Even Toby Belch (Kelly) and Andrew Aguecheek (Keast) joined the audience at one stage. There were empty seats next to a lady two seats from myself. Kelly and Keast seated themselves merrily besides her asking whether the play had ‘started yet’ and it would be better once, ‘the drunks had arrived!’ The ad-lib nature of this scene was hilarious!

The play ended with Malvolio spitting out his curses for revenge, Viola and Sebastian were reunited and the lovers joined with their rightful partners! The finale was again very joyous with the cast dancing around the stage to party music. The audience clapped along and the culmination was streamers popping loudly and balloons falling from the heavens. One landed in my lap and as the cast walked off the stage, I reached out for another balloon bobbing in front of me. I forgot the seats retracted and fell back on my bottom laughing loudly!! David couldn’t help but laugh too and we walked out of the theatre, thoroughly entertained and with two balloons!

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It was the first play in the new Everyman and returning home, it was to ‘our’ home that we returned and not our parents. There had been many firsts that night!

With Malvolio’s words ringing in my ears… ‘some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.’ I wonder whether that is the reincarnated Everyman’s will, to achieve just that!

Christine Lucas 2014!