Our Lady of Blundellsands (Liverpool Everyman)

Have you heard? Our Lady of Blundellsands is a hilariously twisted comic drama written for the Everyman by Jonathan Harvey, award-winning creator of Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful Thing. Lovingly directed by Nick Bagnall, it’s about families and fantasies, honesty and lies – and about how heartbreaking great comedy can be.

It’s no secret that Sylvie is unravelling. Frozen in time in her Blundellsands house, she inhabits a fantasy world that never was. Garnet, her sister, is older and wiser – and wearier, with her shopping lists and tired love. She’s always fanned the flames of Sylvie’s fantasies. Because if she didn’t… who knows where they’d both end up?

But now the whole family’s up in Liverpool for a birthday, and Garnet’s got a secret of her own to pass on. There’ll be a party… but it’s not going to be pretty.

Welcome to a family more messed up than your own.

An Everyman & Playhouse production

★★★★★ The Stage, “Tears, laughter and acid wit":

'Jonathan Harvey has extraordinary skill in writing sensitive, witty dialogue. Our Lady of Blundellsands is an outstanding example of his ability to create utterly believable characters in equally believable, surreal scenarios. [...] Josie Lawrence and Annette Badland are a joy to watch as Sylvie and Garnet. Their verbal sparring is classic Harvey, laden with sharp one-liners; there’s more than a hint of both Blanche DuBois and Baby Jane Hudson in Sylvie’s disintegration.

Sylvie dreams of one day seeing her likeness in a stained glass window, promised to her long ago by an artist friend. As the play reaches its magical, heartbreaking conclusion, Garnet’s supposed discovery of ‘Our Lady of Blundellsands’ in a nearby church offers the solution to her worries about Sylvie’s future.

Nick Bagnall directs a tightly knit ensemble, finely balancing laughter and tears in a play that holds up a mirror to its audience, showing us something we can all recognise.'

★★★ The Guardian, Catherine Love:

'Sylvie (Josie Lawrence) lives in an imagined past – as fixed and rose-tinted as the stained glass window she believes has been modelled on her by an artist lover. At a loss for what else to do, Sylvie’s older sister Garnet (an affecting Annette Badland) stokes the make-believe, creating a safe oasis of comforting lies. [...]  It’s Ibsen turned up to 11. But the play is also aware of its own ridiculousness and threaded with moments of knowing humour, undercutting the heightened drama. [...] Performance is at the core of Our Lady of Blundellsands. Sylvie clings to her brief moment of fame – a bit part in Z-Cars – continuing to play to her audience even as she shuts herself away. She records a radio show for non-existent listeners and imagines a throng of adoring fans gathering outside the house. Captivatingly played by Lawrence, she’s a Norma Desmond-type, with all the brittle vanity of a fading movie star, only Sylvie was never really famous in the first place. Her desire for the limelight has been imbibed by her sons: Mickey-Joe is a drag queen known as Crystal Fist, while golden boy Lee Lee is a failed actor who Sylvie still believes is headed for the big time. [...] 

The most compelling moments are when the play’s absurdity and theatricality are most openly and gleefully acknowledged. At the close of the first half, as the truth begins to out, the whole family retreats into fantasy with a gloriously bizarre song and dance sequence, performed with stern determination by Sylvie and Garnet and boggle-eyed disbelief by newcomer Alyssa. Elsewhere, though, the show seems firmly and unironically in the territory of overwrought family drama.

There are some enjoyable gags along the way, as well as moments of unexpected tenderness and emotion. And without revealing too much, Bagnall has an ace up his sleeve for the final moments, which are as beautiful as they are heartbreaking.'

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FRANKIE/ Matt Henry
SYLVIE/ Josie Lawrence
MICKEY-JOE/ Tony Maudsley
GARNET/ Annette Badland
LEE-LEE/ Nathan McMullen
ALYSSA/ Gemma Brodrick
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Photographer: Marc Brenner

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SOPHIE PARROTT CDG