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Twopence to Cross the Mersey

Rob Fennah, based on the book by Helen Forrester

Produced by Bill Elms and Lynn McDermott

Floral Pavilion Theatre, New Brighton

Sept 6 to 11, 2022; 2 hrs.

(then touring widely, mainly around the North; see full list here)

A scene from Twopence to Cross the Mersey at New Brighton Floral Pavilion Theatre
A scene from Twopence to Cross the Mersey at New Brighton Floral Pavilion Theatre

What is it like to have a cosy, middle-class life ripped away from you by an economic crisis spawned in a far-off land?

Could be quite a few of us find this out in the not-too-distant future, from the way our economy is shaping up...

This is essentially the real-life experience related in this stage adaptation of Helen Forrester’s book.

Set in the early 1930s, when Britain was reeling from the Wall Street Crash and in the grip of an icy depression, Forrester tells how her father was bankrupted and tried to resurrect his fortunes by returning to Liverpool, where his family had made its money. But Liverpool too was badly hit by the depression and many were without work, destitute and malnourished. Helen's family faced a fight for survival - a fight faithfully related by the drama.

As you might expect, there are many moments of gritty reality and the family faces one ignominious moment after another, from eviction to bed bugs to pawning their overcoats. Difficult circumstances for anyone, but perhaps more so for a family unused to its current status, far from streetwise and lacking the tools to survive possessed by many of those around them. Neither was their cause helped by the snobbery some family members felt towards their neighbours.

As the play suggests though, in their darkest moments there were sometimes shafts of light - in the form of kindnesses from those around them, from the policemen who bought them milk every day for two years, to the neighbour who knitted them gloves and cooked - since they had no gas or electricity - the Christmas dinner given them by the local Salvation Army.

In among the general family adversity is that suffered by our heroine herself, Helen’s parents neglecting her needs in favour of buying small luxuries for themselves, treating their daughter as a virtual house slave.

The play's meat comes as Helen rises against this adversity and asserts her intention to gain an education and make a success of her life.

The play is well presented by director Gareth Tudor Price, with typical working-class humour. There are plenty of inspirational quotes within the dialogue - it's that kind of drama - and I was impressed by Jenny Murphy as Helen, who holds centre stage for much of the evening.

This is an uncomfortable story at times, but that is what has made Forrester's books so popular: a likeable, gutsy young woman's rise through life's downs - and ups - to create a better life for herself. The play follows the same route, as Helen triumphs against the odds and gives us a feel-good experience that is well worth watching.

Information and tickets here (New Brighton)


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