Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Night Collar

Tony Furlong and Jimmy Power
Royal Court
Royal Court Liverpool

They say you should always ask a policeman if in need, but you could do just as well to ask a taxi driver, especially if that driver happened to be Alan Stocks’s salt-of-the-earth cabbie currently for hire on the stage of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre. It’s a dirty job alright, but somebody has to do it.

As plots go, they don’t get much more straightforward than Furlong and Power’s Night Collar. It’s Christmas Eve and Stocks is out on the town picking up various waifs and strays including a stag who’s lost his clothes, a lady of the night who’s lost her knickers and a Santa Claus who’s lost control of his bowels. Like I said, it’s a dirty job.

Designer Richard Foxton’s set is simplicity itself: a cutaway cab centre stage. Although that might sound rather unpromising, it actually works rather well. This is, after all, a play about one man and his cab.

Poor old Stocks. Who’d be a taxi driver? Anyone who has ever hailed a cab at 3AM outside Liverpool’s Adelphi hotel will be all too familiar with the dramas unfolding on the back seat of this cab. Stocks is totally believable as the lovable scally cabbie. While some of the performances are a wee bit overplayed verging on irritating, Stocks is always assured, always able to steady a ship that now and again rocks perilously.

While other dramatists might have weaved the various strands together into a more cohesive, satisfying piece of drama, Furlong and Power chose to write what is effectively a series of sketches. As it stands therefore, Night Collar is not really a play—not in the traditional sense—it’s a series of a dozen separate vignettes, some it has to be said funnier than others.

Ultimately though this show is all about the banter. And indeed there are a multitude of laugh-out-loud lines here. When one worse-for-wear reveller is asked incredulously why he is going to a lecture at 3 in the morning, the deadpan reply is: You haven’t met my f***** wife, have you? Yes, the humour is gritty and the language even grittier. Heck, there’s enough effin’ and blindin’ here to make even Gordon Ramsey blush.

At times the laughter does feel a little forced, no more so than when Stocks picks up his final passenger of the evening. Benny Hill apart, have speech impediments ever been ripe for lampoonery? The final passenger of the evening has a stammer that would put George VI to shame. This is stammering on a quite profound scale. Oh dear. Squirm you almost certainly will.

Night Collar then is the type of show that you could only ever see at The Royal Court. If it’s a raucous evening of familiar faces saying and doing familiar things, colourful characters and even more colourful language you are after, this show will not disappoint.

Reviewer: David Sedgwick