A weekly soap opera, Cilla, War Horse and other things with teeth

Empire Theatre | Thurs-Sat September 7-16

For the generation that only knew Cilla Black as a primetime TV presenter, the coming of a full-blown Bill Kenwright-produced stage musical about her life may seem a little unlikely. But for the Mersey Beaters who were there at the start, or those who finally caught up with her career via the 2014 ITV mini-series Cilla, the idea that her Beatles-backed, Epstein-enabled story is worthy of an evening’s live entertainment will come as no surprise surprise.

This world premiere is written by Jeff Pope (adapted from his own TV drama), and stars crowdsourced newcomer Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla herself. Expect a jukebox of people-pleasing hits and much dabbing at the eyes by anyone who has a heart.

The Punter | Unity Theatre | Fri-Sat September 8-9

Deborah Morgan’s new play, The Punter, should have been one of the first productions at the Unity following its renovation back in May, but delays in the building work scuppered that plan. It appeared instead at the Cornerstone, where this dark comedy exploring NHS cuts combined both big laughs and deep thoughts about the state of our healthcare system.

Finally though, The Punter gets its run at the theatre that originally commissioned it. Featuring popular Liverpool performers Graham Hicks and Denise Kennedy, and direction by Tim Lynskey, the show promises scalpel-sharp dialogue, some expert physical comedy, and insights that might make Jeremy Hunt wince. Which is always a good thing.

Impropriety’s Weekly Soap
81 Renshaw Street | Mondays September 18, 25, October 2, 9, 16, 23

You might think there hasn’t been a decent Liverpool-based soap since Harry Cross left Brookside with St Helens in his sights, but you’d be reckoning without theatre company Impropriety and their annual attempt to work up an improvised lather.

Not that anyone knows where this year’s tale is going to be set. It might be Liverpool, Llandudno or a land down under, or indeed anywhere else in this universe or the next. As Impropriety themselves say, “You, the audience, will discover the storyline and plot at exactly the same time as those on stage as we make it all up as we go along.”

Bubbling up over six consecutive Monday nights in the cosy confines of 81 Renshaw Street, Impropriety’s weekly winging-it session can be consumed a week at a time for £5 each, or you can clean up with the full set for £25 all in.

The Tin Drum | Everyman Theatre | Thurs September 28 – Sat October 14

Kneehigh theatre company was the first visiting troupe to tread the Everyman’s shiny new boards back in 2014, and the prospect of a return visit with a brand new show is something to savour.

Last time it was the trippy Brechtian spectacular Dead Dog In a Suitcase. This time it’s a new adaptation of The Tin Drum, the epic novel by Günter Grass, a piece that Kneehigh are calling “part Baroque opera, part psychedelic white-out, part epic poem: a burlesque, a blitzkrieg, a tsunami”.

This endlessly inventive company is rightfully celebrated for its ingenious shows, and this co-production with the Everyman and West Yorkshire Playhouse is likely to have a long life ahead of it. But this story of Oskar, a character who decides to stay three years old forever, begins right here in Liverpool. You really shouldn’t miss a beat.

The Suitcase | Playhouse | Weds-Sat October 4-7

With the advent of wheeled baggage, the old style suitcase is fading from the popular consciousness, but a swapped or stolen case remains a potent dramatic device. In this play, set in 1950s South Africa, a young couple find their journey from rural village to hectic city isn’t leading them towards wealth and happiness as they hoped. In desperation, a suitcase is stolen on a bus, “an act which brings frightening consequences, dramatic twists and unexpected turns”.

Johannesburg’s Market Theatre has been producing powerful work for over 40 years, and this is a rare chance to see a company that was described as the “theatre of the struggle” during the apartheid years.

Heroine | Theatre Clwyd | Weds October 18 – Sat November 4

Theatre Clwyd’s autumn season includes new productions of Uncle Vanya and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, but it’s Nessah Muthy’s Heroine that promises the most unpredictable evening out.

Grace is a young woman who has been discharged from the Army on medical grounds, and when she returns to civilian life she searches out the sense of community she has left behind. She finds it when she volunteers at a local centre, but conflict isn’t far away.

This world premiere is described as “a devastating exploration of the UK today,” a piece in which “patriotism, nativism and modern Britain collide”.

Playhouse | Weds-Sat October 18-21

It may be too early to predict with any real accuracy, but it does seem likely that this production, by the pioneering company 1927, will be the most visually dazzling creation of Liverpool’s autumn theatre season. 1927 specialise in live performance seamlessly combined with hand-drawn animation and other moving images, and Golem has already been described in The Guardian as “a glimmering evening,” one which “anyone interested in the theatre must attend”.

The irony at Golem’s heart is that it uses cutting-edge technology to tell an anti-technology tale, “a dystopian fable for the twenty-first century”. According to Jewish folklore, a golem is an inanimate figure that comes to life, and via the power of some whizz-bang visual trickery, 1927 will have you believing that clay men can fly. Or walk, at least.

Revolution | The Casa | Fri-Weds October 20-25

As befits a bar in which a certain ex-Prime Minister’s passing was celebrated long into the night, The Casa is the only city venue putting the centenary of the Russian Revolution centre stage. 

Revolution is a new show by its resident theatre company, Burjesta. Drawing on a wide range of sources including diaries, memoirs and contemporary journalism including John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, the company hopes to give “an authentic flavour” of those world-changing events.

The company also promises to depict all the revolution’s main players, “from Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky to their political opponents such as Kerensky and Tsar Nicholas II himself”.

Social media idea: a crowdsourced casting campaign called Search For a Tsar.

Man to Man
Everyman Theatre | Weds-Sat October 25-28

Manfred Karge’s The Conquest Of the South Pole may have been the trickiest conundrum of the Everyman’s recent rep season, but for many who saw it, the play’s elusive spirit was well worth chasing. When the author, now almost 80, travelled from Berlin to Liverpool to talk about his work, a dedicated band of fans turned out to hear him speak.

This small but perfectly formed fan club will no doubt be returning to the Everyman this autumn to see another Karge play, this time produced by the Wales Millennium Centre. Man to Man is about a woman forced to adopt her dead husband’s identity in order to survive in Nazi Germany, and with its stark, stylised set and distinctive visual style, it is likely to be an intense and unnerving evening out. 

War Horse | Empire Theatre | Weds November 15 – Sat December 2

Originally staged by the National Theatre in 2007, this much-loved show is now more of an elderly nag than a sprightly foal, but it’s unlikely to have lost any of its beauty or power.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, the play is far more than simply a showcase for the Handspring Puppet Company’s stunning life-size horses, but even so, there’s no doubt that these incredible puppets have been one of the keys to its success.

After having galloped from National Theatre to the West End, and on round the world, this is War Horse’s first appearance in Liverpool. And who knows, if the puppets attempt a few of the Aintree jumps while they’re here, it might also be their last. Anywhere.