The beautifully intimate Unity Theatre on Liverpool’s Hope Place is currently hosting comedy play Omnibus, which runs until this Saturday (June 17). YB News’ Andrew Wright went along to check it out.
The play, produced by the Royal Court Theatre in association with Unity Theatre, is advertised as a ‘farce’.
The anarchic quick-fire, and oft slapstick, comic set pieces, reminiscent in style at times of Fawlty Towers, would certainly lend itself to this billing.
Furthermore, The inter-gender house-sharing concept, with all of the action taking place between the male and female protagonists in the confines of a living room, certainly evokes fond memories of classic 90s farce sitcom Men Behaving Badly.
Indeed, the pace never lets up. Testament to the writing of Katie Mulgrew, and the quality of the talented actors involved, the dialogue and interaction between characters is witty and well-executed. And even when a joke falls flat, as they inevitably do sometimes in a play of this nature, an instantaneous humorous retort or quick comic observation has the audience back on side.
The young talent involved in this play, which is a winner of the prestigious Hope Playwriting Prize, deserve an enormous amount of credit for carrying the action, which relies on their slick synergy with each other. And their comfort of working together and trust in each other is palpable.
Crucially, and refreshingly, all of the five main characters are given equal footing in the production and sufficient lines and character depth for each and every one of them to make a lasting and endearing impact on the audience.
The play focuses on three twenty-somethings sharing a house being rudely interrupted from their Sunday mundanity of making a roast and watching the telly by a hapless bank-robber on the run.
Alice Bunker Whitney plays half-cut jilted-at-the-altar Lauren, who shares her now-greater mortgage repayments with old university pals Mark (played by Joel Parry) and Nell (Gemma Banks), who, it is clear, have unfinished romantic business. This is news to Mark’s girlfriend Jess (Eva McKenna), whose ‘sexily stupid’ persona ensures she stays oblivious to most of the action unfolding around her, which often make for very amusing results.
The interplay between the four is energetic, fun and at times hilarious. Their timing is spot-on, and the action, as a result, is delivered at a frenetic pace, which leaves the audience howling with laughter at some junctures and gasping for breath at others. However, it is Danny Burns who steals the show as loveable, unwitting bank robber Leslie. His stage presence, facial expressions and comedic aping provides the play with its major laugh out loud moments.
Notable cameos come from the legendary Eithne Browne, who is a comic whirlwind upon her entrance, and a rubber mask of Margaret Thatcher (whose ridiculing of is always appreciated by a Liverpool audience). Her appearance in the form of a rubber mask, and implied ‘sexy-time’ role play with said mask, ensured a hearty laugh from the audience, who revelled in the poking of fun of the late ‘Iron Lady’.
Omnibus does not always hit the mark comedy-wise, which can be attributed to the sheer volume of dialogue, although when it does the results are hilarious. The play is at once funny, energetic and moving. The characters are relatable and garner real empathy and endearment from an audience that ultimately invests in them and wants to see them happy (apart from Margaret Thatcher, obvs!). Omnibus is, overall, a triumph, and befitting for a venue with the warmth and charm of the Unity.
Omnibus runs at the Unity Theatre until June 17, with two performances on Saturday. For information and tickets, visit the box office in person at 1 Hope Place, Liverpool, L1 9BG, phone on 0151 709 4988 or visit https://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/omnibus.html