Liliom holds the ace

I send my theatre love to the pub…and I’m not wearing beer goggles! Let’s face it – walking into a strange pub on your lonesome can guzzle awkwardness down the hatch and starve confidence within the beer belly. However, The Bread and Roses Pub chases uncertainty away and welcomes the theatre folk as their local punters. Arriving early makes the perfect excuse to satisfy the thirst, I opted for a well-behaved orange juice – unwilling to take the risk of a 90 minute play, with no interval, and my great need of memory. With a rose stamped on the hand, an earful of the bell and black curtain whish, the audience were allowed to march up the staircase and immerse themselves within Torchlight Collective‘s Liliom: A Legend in Seven Scenes.

Liliom is Hungarian playwright Molnár Ferenc’s troubling expressionistic masterpiece about two broken souls who find each other. Liliom is a carousel barker and Julie is a young serving girl. It is set in Budapest in the early 1900’s and explores the themes of being an outlander, domestic abuse and the value of one human life.  

-From Torchlight Collective’s Liliom Programme

Greeting Mrs Muskat (Regina Russell) at the top of the stairs, we were handed raffle tickets – pretend play money for the stalls – and opened the door to the fairground inside.  Although the theatre space is slightly cramped and dark, the semi-immersive beginnings brought both cast and audience into an energetic frenzy. Liliom (Blain Neale) and Ficsur (Harold Addo) fooled me into their Find the Ace card trick, distracting my eyes from the prize with boyish charm and general chit chat. My grandad always told me to go for the middle card…well I’m ignoring his advice from now on. With a smile on my face and sitting next to fellow blogger, Montse from At Stage Door, we watched the cast and crew prepare for their first scene.

Photo credit: E’like’m Agbeko Akpalu
Liliom played by Blain Neale. Photo credit: E’like’m Agbeko Akpalu

Despite the lighting distorting my side view, all cast members dazzled the stage in their own way. It’s probably best to describe Blain Neale’s Liliom as a heart throb for teen girls (Luckily, I no longer belong within this age category), but reveals a nasty and violent temper. His ever-changing relationship towards Julie is crucifying to watch. Daniela Ologeanu’s Julie has a sweet-like innocence and walks around love drugged, falling in love with bad boy Liliom. Samantha Kamras’ Marie brings an excitable and giggly presence with flashes of comic relief from her beloved puppet on hand (who is her husband…err…don’t ask). Harold Addo’s Ficsur was a whistling pro and had a playful yet troublesome attitude. Fiscur indeed leads Liliom to a tragic fate. Regina Russell’s Mrs Muskat storms onto the stage with her Carousel business hat firmly cemented unknown to the consequences for firing Liliom. Alariza Nevarez’ Mrs Hollunder and The Magistrate has an authoritative, girl powered aura and speaks with absolute clarity. Finally, Laurence Bourne’s Linzman and The Guard is a 6ft 6 gentle giant, who can impressively change his menacing demeanour into a comforting protector.

Unable to shed a single tear for Liliom’s death scene, I was unsure whether this was due to my dislike towards his wife-beating character or it seemed to lack emotional punch. Regarding the theme of suicide, I wished both the cast and crew tread upon a few more careful shells. For example, the Poor Man sitting amongst the audience, encouraging laughter at the victims and their life-changing sentences. Perhaps I am emotionally tied towards the topics of mental health and faith, but I felt these Purgatory scenes were slightly rushed, excused as laughs rather seriousness and could be the missing key to heighten this dramatic yet shocking climax. The ending also made me want to slap Liliom…not just on the arm!

Julie played by Daniela Ologeanu Photo credit: E’like’m Agbeko Akpalu
Julie played by Daniela Ologeanu Photo credit: E’like’m Agbeko Akpalu

The scene which stole my heart was Marie and Mrs Hollunder comforting Julie as she cowers over Liliom’s dead body. They try to convince Julie that Liliom isn’t worth the tears and his death is a good thing. “Marie : Julie, tell me, am I right?….A year from now you will have forgotten all about him, won’t you? Julie: You are right, Marie.” Julie’s constant repetition of “You are right, Marie” makes you want to give her a bloody big cuddle, but forced to watch her blankness, struggling to comprehend her husband’s dead body and motherhood.

Liliom: A Legend in Seven Scenes is Torchlight Collective’s first production and what a play to mark the beginning of their adventure. Working within such an intimate setting, I salute the cast and crew for conquering the challenges. It was a fabulous production to witness a wonderful whiff of fresh talent.

Liliom ends on 29 August so buy your tickets here

Big thanks to David Gasperetti and Mark Modzelewski

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