IN A Blundellsands house, an insomniac author sits in front of a typewriter, bathed in the glow of a TV set upon which Laurel and Hardy are singing the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
This is Norm, played by Liverpool-born Mark Womack in a long-awaited return to the city’s stage.
It’s a reunion of sorts between the 52-year-old actor and his two fellow stars of 90s cop drama Liverpool 1.
Except that they never lost touch. Samantha Womack (then Janus) he married and he and Scot Williams remained such good friends that Williams’s gave Womack the larger role in his own play.
In the black comedy Hope, it very quickly becomes obvious that there is something odd about the set-up.
For one thing, Norm’s relationship with his housemate is bizarrely controlling – he insists they should agree on every subject and keeps telling him he needs him to get out of his head.
Then there’s the arrival of second lodger Hope (Samantha Womack), who is both rooted in earthy pleasures (sex and drugs) and somehow otherworldly, and Victor (Williams), the man she has picked up on a night out – a mischievous character whose true motives are never quite made clear. And it appears that no matter how often Norm attempts to leave the house, something will intervene to prevent him.
Womack’s naturalistic style of acting works well on stage, particularly when he’s frustrated with his ongoing writer’s block – an ailment he doesn’t believe in. There are moments when he turns too quickly to rage for it to feel truly believable – exacerbated by the use of microphones.
While it is he the Liverpool audience has probably come to see, it’s The Bill’s René Zagger they’ll most vividly remember after the show.
As housemate Guy, a schoolteacher who also fancies himself a writer, he moves between introspective worrier and ebullient Laurel and Hardy fan.
It’s a sparkling performance that gives zest to Williams’s multi-layered script and prevents it from flagging during Guy’s many monologues.
Carmen De Lemos’s set is richly textured, with props such as a wooden airplane, a cactus and a red rose serving as David Lynch-style references to the plot.
A good fit for the Royal Court’s attempt to slightly reposition itself, Hope is both clever and thought-provoking as well as sniggeringly funny.