One Dream: The Beryl Marsden Story (Epstein)

A career that began at the age of fifteen, appearances with the Beatles, spells in Liverpool, London and Hamburg, teenage pregnancy, forming a group with Rod Stewart and future members of Fleetwood Mac, a brief stint as one of Martha Reeves’s Vandellas…It’s not surprising writer Mike Howl thought the life of Beryl Marsden – generally considered the best female singer to emerge from the Merseybeat scene – was ideal material for a stage show. The result, One Dream, successfully premiered at the Cavern last year and now it’s back for a few performances at the Epstein.

The overall narrative of Beryl’s life with its dramatic ups and downs can’t help but retain the audience’s interest, and as the show moves through time we see entertaining evocations of early Sixties Liverpool, swinging London and a sleazy Hamburg. There’s plenty of local interest in the period detail of the Liverpool scenes, with references to fondly remembered pubs and clubs, and to memorable background events such as the sacking of Pete Best.

There’s also an excellent live band, and while there’s some creaky dialogue and the dramatic scenes sometimes seem under-written the music always comes to the rescue. Beryl had an ear for a good song, and her potent cover versions of US soul hits such as Barbara George’s I Know and Irma Thomas’s Breakaway are effectively re-created. When she started out as a teenage singer Beryl was compared to Brenda Lee, and Francesca Davies, who plays the young Beryl, is a real Little Miss Dynamite herself, with a powerful voice and a charismatic stage presence. Gillian Hardie, who’s the adult Beryl, has the show’s most demanding role. As the narrator she’s on stage most of the time, as well as acting in several scenes and singing some of the songs. She copes well and is especially effective in the scenes charting Beryl’s mid-life marital and spiritual crises.

Several other members of the largely youthful cast give strong performances in multiple roles that include Beryl’s mother, her manager Joe Flannery and singer Sandie Shaw.

The climax of the show is a 50th anniversary concert, which sees Beryl Marsden herself take to the stage for a short set. She’s still in excellent voice, and not surprisingly gets by some measure the biggest cheers of the night as she performs some new material and revisits a few old favourites, including Boys and Baby It’s You.

One Dream has a very short three-day run at the Epstein, but it’s easy to imagine future revivals (maybe during Beatles week?). The script could do with some further work before then, but Beryl Marsden certainly has a story that’s worth telling.

One Dream continues at the Epstein on Sat 15 March (2.30pm and 8pm) and Sun 16 March (2.30pm). For more information, click HERE.