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Boys from the Blackstuff


Garrick Theatre

2 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH 0330 333 4811

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  • Synopsis
  • Theatremonkey show opinion
  • Reader reviews
  • Performance schedule
  • Ticket prices

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS / "BUY OR AVOID" SEAT GUIDE

Ends 3rd August 2024.

"Gissa Job," "I could do that."
Liverpool in the 1980s. No work, no money, plenty of laughter among five unemployed men.

James Graham adapts Alan Bleasdale's classic TV series for the stage in the transfer from the Liverpool Royal Court Theatre. Seen at the National Theatre in May 2024, it now moves into the West End for a short season.

(From the pre-Garrick Theatre transfer. Seen at the Olivier Theatre at the afternoon performance on 1st June 2024)

The monkey was just that bit too young to see the original 1982 Alan Bleasdale TV series on which James Graham’s stage adaptation is based. It is, however, old enough to remember constant news stories describing the desperation of the early Thatcher years. British heavy industry went into terminal decline and millions of jobs vanished almost overnight.

With its inbuilt indefatigable sense of humour, Liverpool overcomes anything, and so this team of former road tarmac layers face an uncertain future with a mixture of bravado and despair.

Unlike “Standing At The Sky’s Edge,” where a sweeping brutalist landscape set the scene to perfection, Amy Jane Cook’s pair of cranes, balconies and rusty girder bridge with flying signs is uninteresting, almost desperate in placing the ruling class above the working one in crass symbolism.

In reducing 5 hours of teleplay to 2 hours 15 minutes of stage time, James Graham is forced to compress the characters’ emotional depth. We learn nothing of most of them, relying on a single catchphrase and key dialogue which has passed into the vernacular from the television original, to plug the gaps.

Director Kate Wasserberg, even on a National Theatre budget, has to make most of the cast work multiple roles to include all the bit-players Graham wishes. With an array of outfit changes and some pretentious movement sequences, the effect is more often charades rather than biting political commentary.

Barry Sloane as Yosser has the most famous catchphrase, “gissa job”. Only wanting to work, hair-trigger to fight, he is unfortunately written one-dimensionally, a final revelation at odds with the image he builds up throughout the play.

As Chrissie, Nathan McMullen is a little more successful. With a better drawn character – moral in the face of desperation, and with wife Angie (Lauren O’Neil, down-to-earth credible) to support him, his work and dilemmas are real.

Central to the community, Philip Whitchurch does well as George, dying yet refusing to give in. Dominic Carter in a number of roles including employer and Catholic Priest also makes much of bringing a little colour to the stage.

This is very much required, as the worst issue is the whole piece being almost unremittingly grim. The Liverpool survivalist humour rarely shines, but most of all there is no context for the men and their suffering. 

There is nobody outside their circle for whom things are better or worse, nobody to aspire to or pity, to demonstrate what they are fighting for or to prevent themselves descending into. 

The result is rather tedious, as we hear only the constant drone of unemployment, never seeing the camaraderie which is helping them through. We hear a monotone; the opportunity to be as colourful as the television series missing.

A lesson from history, yes, and something we should not forget, but the monkey couldn’t help but wonder if a stage adaptation of “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” might not have had more impact, covering similar ground with greater humour, among the very real tears the real people who suffered then deserve from us still.

Legacy reader reviews

(From the May 2024 Olivier Theatre production)

I hadn't seen the TV show and only really knew the 'Gissa Job' catchphrase.

I was sadly underwhelmed watching the play; lots of one dimensional acting, more shouting really, and no nuance. Unemployment and being poor is bad, it seems, or was in 1982 anyway.

The next night I started watching the BBC series on iPlayer. What we have on stage is a sort of tribute act to the series, 'Blackstuff Live!' or something like that. The excellent James Graham has said in interviews how he holds Alan Bleasdale responsible for him, Graham, wanting to write, and that's fine, but stick to the excellent new stuff (is 'Punch' coming to London?).

If you watch the show you'll see how much is copied - look! the same road signs when he hitch hikes away! - but the nuances are lost, especially as the TV series was shot in cramped flats and crummy offices and sad building sites, which the wide Olivier can't do. And for some reason one or two bits are played for comedy, which doesn't work.

So, hard to recommend. 

The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.

Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm 
Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm

Runs 2 hours 30 minutes approximately.

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS / "BUY OR AVOID" SEAT GUIDE

Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.

 

Garrick Theatre seating plan showing prices

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