THEATRE / Maggie May - Royalty, London WC2

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The Independent Culture
Lionel Bart's musical was first produced before most of the National Youth Theatre's cast were even a twinkle in their da's eyes. Written in 1964, when the Beatles were getting into their swing, and with a book by Alun Owen, it is set in Liverpool's docklands and is full to the brim with 'gritty Northern realism'.

Based loosely on the figure of Mary Magdalen, Maggie May is a prostitute who falls in love with Pat Casey, son of dockland hero Joe Casey. Casey Junior has no intention of following in his father's footsteps but the iniquities of the union representative forces him into action against the shipyard bosses. It's a David-and-Goliath tale - the honest working men against the corrupt capitalists who own the yard and are exporting arms to South Africa to be used against the workers' brothers in overalls.

Dock gangs and unions must seem like ancient history to the enthusiastic young cast, brought up in an age when docklands means riverside cafes, and Labour is represented by men in sharp suits. To the audience, too, Liverpool itself is now well- worn territory - from The Liver Birds to the dramas of Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell.

Liz King makes a splendid Maggie May - the proverbial tart with a heart, both brassy and sweet. James Barriscale's Casey has plenty of gravel in his singing voice but not quite the presence to pass as a leader of men. The dance routines are well executed (staged by David Toguri) but numbers such as Maggie, Maggie May remain shadowed by Bart's best known work (on his East End home ground), Oliver]

Continues to 19 Sept (071-494 5090)