Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Once a Year on Blackpool Sands

Karlton Parris
Skint Productions
The Salford Arts Theatre, Salford
20 July 2018 to 21 July 2018

Raised in a Yorkshire mining community, Eddy Corkhill (Kyle Brookes) and Tommy Price (Macaulay Cooper) have been friends since childhood and, in maturity, have become lovers. But this is 1953 and homosexuality is illegal, so the only chance the lovers have to fulfil their passion is the annual Wakes holiday in Blackpool.

Eddy has found a boarding house that seems to be populated exclusively by eccentrics – the landlady and her mother are both former showgirls, and another guest, Mr Elbridge (Dominic Mccavish) is a transvestite and plans to walks from North to South piers as a woman. But finding a place where their sexuality is accepted is only one issue which the lovers must resolve. Tommy is rooted in his family and community and has come to the conclusion that he must end the affair, settle down and get married. Eddy is becoming increasingly angry at the treatment he has received and is planning to emigrate.

Once a Year on Blackpool Sands is an uneven play; perhaps writer and director Karlton Parris has been inspired by the seaside setting to offset the drama with saucy humour. During the first act Wendy Laurence James, Linda Clark and Mollie Jones, as the eccentric family that run the hotel, keep up a barrage of innuendo and, when all else fails, fall back on foul language to raise a laugh. The gags are good (the hotel is said to feature ‘more queens than the Coronation’) but the routine goes on so long that the end of Act One is reached before the theme of the play has become clear. More significantly, the humour and the drama do not blend well together.

The need to challenge prejudice and take pride in one’s true nature emerges as a theme in the second act. This becomes apparent through the plot lines built around the characters of Eddy, Tommy and Mr Elbridge. Kyle Brookes and Macaulay Cooper bring great tenderness to their roles, so that the conflict which develops between the characters is truly shocking.

However, Karlton Parris takes an egalitarian approach to his characters and allows each one to make a contribution to the plot. As a result scenes become lengthy and the central characters seem to vanish for ages, leaving their plotlines hanging unresolved.

Parris is an emotive writer – Dominic Mccavish’s passionate speech about the revelation that struck Mr Elbridge at Dunkirk is a showstopper. But Once a Year on Blackpool Sands is not a subtle play; the characters do not converse but rather make lengthy speeches at each other. The second act becomes congested with long speeches that fill in backstory or establish motivation but slow down the momentum of the play.

The mixture of comedy and drama in Once a Year on Blackpool Sands is not completely successful, but this is an authentic look back at a less tolerant period, and a reminder of the need to constantly challenge prejudice.

Reviewer: David Cunningham