Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Sign of the Times - Liverpool Playhouse

Sign if the Times by Tim Firth
Director: Peter Wilson
Reviewer: John Roberts

It was Cameron Mackintosh that once said that you see the best in a production after it had been re-written three times and that's exactly what Tim Firth has done with this production, Originally commissioned by Alan Ayckbourn for the Stephen Joseph Theatre as a one act play, Firth has revisited the production and made several changes to it since its birth eighteen years ago.

Sign of the Times (previously known as Absolutely Frank) takes us to the roof of Forshaws an Outdoor Sinage production company and into the life of Frank Tollit, Cheif Installer for Forshaws for 25 years. Frank has taken on a 15 year old Work experience student Alan, who would rather do his own thing (or so it seems) than to listen to Frank.

Firth's script has his usual trademark of witty lines and incredible human interaction that at times has you howling with laughter and at other times deeply saddened by the events that unfold in front of your eyes, especially touching at the pivotal moment of Act 1. Firth has created an interesting premise for the piece for the second act which is certainly the act with the most laughs - one would love to tell you what happens but wouldn't be able to without giving the plot away (I just hate it when reviewers do that!)
With the action taking place on a brilliant set designed by Morgan Large, director Peter Wilson has been able to craft a production that flows with pace and energy which allows the laughter to come freely but also gives the audience the freedom to sit back and think on the more human aspects of the relationship between Frank and Alan, with some clever touches and physical comedy sprinkled throughout you are never left looking at your watch or wanting the production to end.

What really makes this show sparkle is the onstage chemistry between Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Tom Shaw as Alan, they definitely bring the best out of each other. Thompkinson's portrayal of Frank is one of the most touching performances I have seen in recent times, and Shaw really comes into action when his character is given a much meatier plot in the second half and is quite sublime in his comic prowess.

If this production comes to a theatre near you there really is one thing to do...and that's book your ticket now before the chance to see one of the best plays to have hit the stage fades away like the lights on top of Forshaw's roof.

Photos: Alastair Muir
Sign of the Times runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 11th April 2009
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