Originally scheduled to have been performed in March 2020, Lucy Duncan's directorial debut of Stags and Hens was axed under circumstances I doubt I even have to mention. In a devastating blow to NUTS' semester two programme, the play was forced to be cancelled in its final, fully rehearsed stage - hours of rehearsals just cast asunder. However, when the opportunity for new plays opened this semester, Lucy Duncan picked up right where she left off and got Stags and Hens back on the road again. With a full new cast and backstage team - having spent two years in the dark - this production team is readier than ever to take the limelight.
Bawdy, foul-mouthed, and thoroughly Scouse, Russell's Stags and Hens is a comedy of wedding eve nerves, pissy club toilets, and young love. The story follows the recently engaged couple, Linda and Dave (Sophie Chapman and Xander Kennard), who unwittingly rock up at the same grubby club for their stag and hen parties. Stags and Hens in tow, the action takes place in two separate bathrooms; ladies to the left of the stage and gents to the right. Determined not to let the Bride and Groom see each other on the night before their wedding, what follows is a barrage of drunken slurs, emotional outpourings, and a spot of infidelity that could make the whole thing come crashing down. This classic 1970s delight is a humourous and bright look at the whys and wherefores of love, lust and marriage, coupled with a smattering of sparky Liverpudlian accents.
Lucy Duncan picked up right where she left off and got Stags and Hens back on the road again.
NUTS' production is a triumph. It encapsulates everything that I love about student theatre and I am so glad it's back. From the outset, you're transported to a boozy club of the 70s - hand stamped on the way in, pint in hand, time to take your seats. The set is low budget - as most student productions are - but the cardboard toilet cubicle and the shoebox urinal do nothing but add to the comic genius of this piece. Scrawled on the back walls of the toilets are markers of the time we're in; 'I love Rod Stewart', 'I've slept with more sl*ts than Mick Jagger', and every now and then a little drunken existential quote - cubicle food for thought, you know.
First to take the stage are the girls. Yasmine Bridge's Bernadette is sharp, fierce, and never lets the act drop. Originally described by Willy Russell as 'The Dictator' of the group, she pulls this role off to a T. Unremmitingly narcissistic: regularly checking herself out in the mirror and constantly playing with her hair, she soon establishes herself as the leader of this drunken pack. Enter Maureen, the constantly-crying, clumsy member of the friend group who is terrified of letting the bride see the groom for fear of it all going wrong. Sophie Macdonald's portrayal is golden. Full of wit and well-timed humour, she very quickly becomes the most loveable on the stage, and not just for her characteristic scouse 'ach!'. These girls have a tight bond and their razor-sharp dialogue hits the mark every time.
Taking (or crawling) to stage-left are the boys. Xander Kennard's Dave, our inebriated groom, doesn't utter a single line until the final scene. Rather, each scene is punctuated by his hilarious sprawling around and about the toilet. He doesn't have much to do, but with what he does, he does it superbly. Robbie (Matthew Miers-Jones) is the cocky lad of the group - unafraid to address his audience as he goes about trying to get with as many girls as he can - Miers-Jones pulls off the role well. Arriving later is Charlie Prothero's Eddy, who is palpably disillusioned and on edge. He's keen to protect his friends and, as the captain of the local football club, is clearly the father of the friend group. Prothero is skilled in his portrayal of his character. Well acted with nuance - he doesn't just go for unbridled shouting but shows varying moments of care and anger very well - Eddy's angst is clear. But, for me, it was Ciara Montgomery's Billy that shone so brightly. Despite having very few lines, her characterisation was immaculate. Full of dazzling facial expressions and little jives, she had the audience in tears. A welcome comic relief to what is a potentially explosive situation.
Last but not least, I feel Jon Deery, as our local star and crux of the situation Peter McGeegan needs a mention. Not least for his commendable ability to walk in a pair of flashy heeled boots, but his human and realistic presentation of a guy who has grappled with unrequited love.
Stags and Hens is a real treat. It is a slice of Liverpool dished up on our very own campus, and last night, a hit with every member of the audience in there. If you're planning to spend an evening out in town, think again - this play guarantees more laughs than even Flares could bring you.