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Theatre Review: Maggie May @ The Finborough Theatre


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Based on the song (no, not the one by Rod Stewart) Maggie May follows the life of Liverpudlian prostitute Margaret Mary Duffy (Kara Lily Hayworth) , who is yearning for her lost first love.

Known to her clients as Maggie May, she refers to every man she meets as ‘Casey’. We soon find out that Patrick Casey is the name of the only man she ever loved, who went out to sea and never returned… but alas - he does come back, and his return is the basis of a brilliantly funny but heartbreakingly sad musical.

Image courtesy of Ali Wright

Written by Alun Owen, The Academy Award nominated writer behind The Beatles' A Hard Days Night (1964) with music by musical legend Lionel Bart (the genius behind Oliver!) Maggie May is so much more than a love story. Whilst Maggie and Casey’s love is at the centre of the narrative it also takes a back seat at times to the struggles at the dockyard and the lives of the sailors and dockers who very much paint a realistic picture of the struggles of working class Liverpool back in the 1960s.

Bart was well-known for bringing working class stories to the stage, in a time that they were rarely heard. Perhaps the dark and somewhat taboo subject matter of prositution is one of the reasons it hasn't been on stage for over five decades. It seems criminal that a show that won Novello awards and whose songs were covered by Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey, would just fade into the background. It debuted back in 1964 at The Aldelphi, so it was great to see it come home to London - albeit a long time later.

Hayworth is great as Maggie May, and I struggled to believe she’s not from Liverpool in real life – her accent is pitch perfect. The character was the classic ‘tart with a heart’, a trope that Bart musicals are famous for. She showed similarities to Oliver!’s Nancy with her rough around the edge’s persona but with a deeply soft kindness inside. 

The whole cast is great, but the true star of the show is James Darch, whose portrayal of Patrick Casey is nothing short of brilliant. The character goes through so much in such a short space of time, and he manages to bring such a wide range of emotion to Casey so effortlessly.  His performance of ‘I’m Me’ a devastating ballad about Casey’s struggles living in his father’s shadow and dealing with his reputation as somewhat of a dock legend is truly the standout piece from the show. 

The best thing about Maggie May is the intimacy. The Finborough theatre houses just 50 seats either side of the stage whilst the performance takes place in the middle. No mics or any special effects, the only accompmiment the actors is a single piano (played exceptionally well by music director Henry Brennan) which doubles up as a bar in the pub scenes. 

One thing that really stood out throughout the show was how much the cast genuinely seemed to be having fun, the group dance numbers were full of infectious joy which really is a credit to the actors and the chorographer (Sam Spencer Lane). 

If you're in London, and want to see a fantasically acted show with an infectious musical score then Maggie May really is a must-see. You'll be singing the songs for weeks. 

Maggie May (directed by Matthew Iliffe) is at The Finborough Theatre until Saturday 20th April. 

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