Monday, October 08, 2007

Local History Lessons

As Liverpool prepares to celebrate its Capital of Culture status next year, it's worth remembering those aspects of its history which are both disturbing & striking in their parallels.

Liverpool's Everyman Theatre is currently staging "Intemperance", by Lizzie Nunnery. I saw the play last Monday & I heartily recommend it.

Set in Liverpool in 1854, it centres on the lives of a mainly Irish, or Liverpool Irish family. As St George's Hall is being built, the family just about get by in one of the teeming slum courts that used to be found off Dale Street, as well as other parts of the city.

What could be a cliched, melodramatic excursion into the city's Irish heritage is written & acted with elan & humanity by writer & cast. There is a striking indifference to the local Catholic priests, as cholera tightens its grip in the slum dwellings. Each night they hear through the paper-thin walls the cries of grief as another death occurs.

There is humour, though much of it is dark & bitter. As the title implies, it also shines a harsh light on the role of alcohol as an emotional crutch in the family, The Grapes pub, still doing business today, being a popular watering hole.

In one outburst, one of the characters declares, "This city belongs to the Irish!", a claim which while historically inaccurate, still retains an enormous emotional resonance here.

What also impressed me was the attention to historical detail; children of Irish emigrants in the city spoke with Irish accents, the Liverpool, or Scouse accent not evolving for another two or three decades.

Complaints about the money being spent on St George's Hall as much of the city is mired in poverty have a contemporary resonance, too. The money which will be lavished on the city centre for 2008 will not filter its way through to the Norris Greens, Croxteths, Netherleys & Evertons.

Nunnery's play does a civic service by highlighting an aspect of the city's past which has either been overlooked or distorted by many. It continues until Saturday.

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