The Grand Gesture, Theatre Review. Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool.

Cast: Michael Hugo, Samantha Robinson, Angela Bain, Howard Chadwick, Claire Storey, Paul Barnhill, Alan McMahon, Robert Pickavance, Dyfig Morris, Sophie Hatfield, Hester Arden.

Whilst the overall central theme of The Grand Gesture may be worrying to some and have others wondering how you can have a comedy set around the premise of a man wanting to end his life, it shouldn’t though detract from the very superb way that Northern Broadsides, perhaps one of the keenly anticipated companies that makes its way on regular basis to the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, took on Nikolai Erdman’s brilliant work The Suicide.

With Deborah McAndrew adapting the gigantic Russian work and transferring it to the north-west of England and injecting the almost unique pace and humour of that part of the country, The Grand Gesture becomes almost identifiable with the struggles of the modern day U.K., the way that in austerity Britain, the cause of the problems that were once thought just to emanate inside Communist Russia, can be fully seen as people are almost subjectively and subliminally asked to also make some sort of grand gesture for the greater good. The pressure of life has not changed since the dark and insidious days of the 1930s.

If Northern Broadsides are afforded a very warm welcome whenever they find themselves inside the Playhouse or Everyman Theatre then to have Michael Hugo within the cast is a huge mark of respect to the Liverpool audiences who have been thrilled by his sheer manic and unbelievably good acting style in performances such as The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and the phenomenally acclaimed Canterbury Tales. To convincingly portray the hero of the piece Simeon Duff as both a man driven to edge in despair at being unemployed, unemployable and having to rely on his wife’s wages and as a man being forced by all sides in the name of a cause to take his life was both heart-warming and a full of generous dark humour.

Alongside the very talented Michael Hugo stands a cast brought together with the very high standards that Northern Broadsides demand. With Samantha Robinson as his wife Mary, the great Paul Barnhill as the Marxist postman, the very cool Robert Pickavance as the detestable and suicide urging Victor Stark and the delightful Hester Arden making a long-awaited return to the company, this was never going to be anything but sublime.

Any play that can use the line, “Money’s as tight as a Hamster’s chuff” certainly will raise a smile and much laughter during the evening, for that Northern Broadsides once more achieved the finest result in what could be seen as their adopted home. A marvellous production from start to finish; pure and unadulterated Northern Broadsides, a sign of scripted brilliance and acting virtuosity!

Ian D. Hall