The Shankly Show, Liverpool Olympia, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

A late substitution eight days before the premiere of The Shankly Show could have proved disastrous for the Liverpool Culture Company, and disappointed the Liverpool FC fans who packed the gala night.

In fact, the Scottish actor and impressionist Alexander West, stepping in to play Bill Shankly and replacing Jonathan Watson, carried off a tricky role with a naturalness that concealed his control and skill.

Getting inside the character of a man who was one of the greatest managers and a Liverpool legend can't be easy, but West somehow managed to combine the chippy exterior and tough demeanour with the manifestly warm heart that seems to have characterised the Scots-born Shankly.

The one-off evening, which is to be revived for a longer run later in the year, was written and directed by Andrew Sherlock, who has created a monologue-style of structure interspersed with video projections on three screens.

Black and white shots of "Kopites" singing became colour footage of the boys in red as the tale took legs. On archive footage, the TV reporter John Morgan observed that Liverpool fans represented a unique tribe; when asked why Liverpool supporters were so vocal, a Scouser replied: "We've got big mouths!"

Using the cunning device of having Shankly draft an autobiography for the Liverpool Echo, Sherlock gave West the chance to muse on his notes, talking sometimes half to himself or as if addressing the players, the board or the fans.

On a small set, the manager's office at Anfield cluttered with football regalia, West regaled the audience with the frustrations, efforts and successes of his campaign to make Liverpool FC the best, playing to the socialist ethic along which Shankly lived his own life.

Sir Tom Finney, one of Shankly's heroes, was in the audience. He knew better than any how passionately Shankly lived for the game, with no time for players who didn't look after themselves.

Sherlock had taken full advantage of many of the quotes for which Shankly is now remembered, delivered by West with some wit.

With iconic photographs and images of the team in action, the show was as much about Liverpool as it was about Shankly. Shots of the Liver Bird, the Cavern and the spreading Merseysound were featured alongside "mood" music.

As much a sentimental trip down memory lane as a tribute to Shankly, the show was surely an inspiration to Liverpool fans, even if theatrically it was little more than mediocre.

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