It could have been a mawkish evening: a "rockumentary" set in the late 1970s around a dingy Liverpool dive, Eric's, interwoven with an account of one man's fight against cancer. In fact Eric's, the musical, turns out to be a highly effective piece of narrative theatre, laced with sounds from the influential catalyst of punk and post-punk, skilfully created by Mark Davies Markham. The man who wrote the Boy George musical, Taboo, now turns to his own story, beginning 20 years ago when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. The usual treatments failed but fatherhood, a new drug and a fighting spirit – drawing on life-affirming memories of his teenage days when Eric's was a cultural lifeline – saw Davies Markham through to what doctors still regard as a remarkable cure.
The setting switches between the insalubrious basement interior of Eric's in Mathew Street, opposite the Cavern Club made famous by the Beatles, and an anonymous street or room. Occupying the back of the stage a versatile four-piece band accompanies the story of Joe (the Davies Markham character) from hospital bed through flashbacks to his younger days as Joey, a spotty youth immersing himself on the fringes of Eric's live line-up. It allows Davies Markham to draw on a back catalogue that includes Mighty Wah!'s "Story of the Blues", a rousing "Heart as Big as Liverpool", Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Cutter", and numbers by Big in Japan, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, The Clash and Elvis Costello.
Much of the charm in Davies Markham's ebullient book – and Eric's is more than a juke-box musical – lies in the incarnations of such later legends as Pete Burns, Julian Cope (wittily portrayed by Oliver Jackson), Jayne Casey, Pete Wylie, Ian McCullough and Holly Johnson. It's also helped by excellent performances from Graham Bickley as the feisty Joe, fighting the demons of cancer, and Stephen Fletcher as young Joey. Director Jamie Lloyd draws first-rate performances all round (especially from Lesley Nicol as Joe's mum). The dialogue is both droll and pointed but what makes the show fly is the passionate and energetic delivery of the musical and dance numbers. Like Joe's life, the period feels transient and the venue vulnerable to the tide of musical and social upheaval but, in Eric's, both the club and Joe, aka Davies Markham, have surely found a kind of immortality.
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