Taking place in the new Downstairs theatre space at The Liverpool Royal Court Theatre, Joanne Sherryden’s The Rainbow Connection will star two familiar faces in Danny O’Brien and Angela Simms. Royal Court audiences will have seen them together before in both runs of the smash hit comedy The Royal in 2016 and 2017, but never quite like this before.
The play focusses on two apartment dwelling 30-somethings; one a superstitious dreamer, the other a cynical realist. She’s a sassy, brassy and scatty but beneath the two-inch slap, she’s hiding deeper insecurities.
He’s smart talking and acerbic – never lost for a word, but he can’t talk about the secret he’s hiding. It’s described as “A love story without the lurvin’, a romcom without the rom, by Joanne; a sentiment both actors agree with and a piece tailor made for the intimacy provided by Downstairs at The Royal Court.
“We’ve both performed The Rainbow Connection before, that was at The Unity, which was sold out for all three performances back in 2013,” Angela explained. “It’s the show everyone who saw it asks ‘when’s it coming back’ because they loved it so much, so it’s an absolute pleasure to see it being put on here.”
“It’s one of those plays where it’s helped by the space it’s in and Downstairs, like The Unity, that’s perfect for it,” Danny added. “So now this extra theatre space is open the timing is just perfect for it to come back. In fact the problem has been finding a stage to perform it. The Rainbow Connection is a really intimate play, a two hander with minimal props and set, that has to be almost in and amongst the audience to work to its full effect. It has to draw you in and wouldn’t work as well in a bigger theatre.”
There was a real love interest between both Danny’s Irish builder and Angela’s nice-but-dim wannabe nurse in The Royal. Here, though, the characters are very different. “I play Joe, who through many different reasons has become a recluse. That’s up until he gets a visitor and is slowly drawn out of his shell.”
On the face of it, the story seems to be a take on Will & Grace. Nothing , though, could be further from the truth. “Although it’s very funny in places, it’s much more of a drama than that,” Angela explained. “Joanne is a fantastic writer who writes from a very human point of view. Every time there is a sad point, she lifts it with something funny almost straight away because that’s what friends do for each other: when they see a mate is a bit down, they’ll try and cheer hem up with a joke. This has a lot of those moments, but it never loses the point of the story it’s trying to tell. When you read something Joanne has written, it’s easy to perform it because her writing is so clear.”
“There’s a reason why, as well, that the flyer and the blurb is all a bit vague and that’s because we can’t give too much away,” Danny added. “There’s a few bombshell moments in there which you’ll have to come along and see explode for yourselves. Basically though it’s about a woman who forces her friendship onto a guy who doesn’t realise just how much he needs a friend.”
“It’s also about how Joe and Shelly compliment each other: how a girl and her gay best friend bond in a way like no other,” Angela continued. “It’s a really lovely, funny, warm and thought provoking play, particularly as both characters make each other face up to things about themselves they’ve both been desperately trying to ignore.”
“Because there’s no romantic love between them either,” Danny said, “there’s a real open honesty to their relationship, which sort of brings out the emotional love they have for each other all the more. There aren’t any of those usual boy/girl barriers to break down.”
“Ultimately its a play about friendship that everybody can find something to relate to,” Angela concluded. “It’s about loneliness and, in someways, interaction with other people. That old fashioned thing – talking – rather than tagging on Social Media. That said though, it is set in the present and the lack of mobiles and tablets and what have you, all adds to the intimacy that grows between both Joe and Shelly.”
The play was born out of a successful entry into the Manchester 24/7 Theatre Festival in 2011 which, as an hour long version of its current ninety minute full length play, was a prize winner. An initiative that would suit Liverpool, with it abundant theatrical writing talent, down to the ground.
“I don’t know why there isn’t anything similar here,” Angela said. “There was Write Now, but 24/7 is really well established now and has produced some great plays. From that win, Joanne went on to pick up the Scouseology award and a substantial bursary from the BBC to write Wannabe, so the idea of having promenade plays and others set in unusual settings would be a great thing for Liverpool. If it gets more new work out there all the better and, again, that is something The Royal Court are always keen to encourage.”
So what can an audience expect from The Rainbow Connection?
“It’s emotive, funny, quick. It has terrific rounded characters and a really fantastic story that has something for everyone to get there teeth into,” Angela said.
“Another thing,” Danny added, “is that Paul Goetzee, the director, really knows what’s needed from both characters. There are some really strong, powerful arcs in this story – both of them really change in a lot of ways – and Paul has managed to shape those changes really, really nicely which is no easy task when the set doesn’t change. The way he manages that development in them is really clever.”
The Rainbow Connection will run Downstairs at Liverpool’s Royal Court from 3 to 12 April. Tickets are £10 and are available from the Royal Court Box Office, royalcourtliverpool.com or on 0151 709 4321