A hit at Manchester’s Royal Exchange on two occasions, The Flags is the Royal Court’s attempt at, to quote the theatre’s chief executive Kevin Fearon, “making you laugh, pull on your emotions and entertain you.” And it does.
Laurie Dennett’s design transforms the theatre to look like a dishevelled section of beach with a buried VW car acting as a ‘watch tower’ amongst the litter and dead seagulls – cruelly murdered by the lifeguard with no clue – Howie.
Eamonn Owens, as in Manchester, plays the part of Howie and is reminiscent to Dougal from the Father Ted series. He’s excellent as Howie and brings a lot of sympathy from the audience for his dim and simple portrayal of a character he is seemingly making his own.
While Liverpool favourite Andrew Schofield as the lying and deceiving John Joseph – a.k.a JJ – starts by being quite rooted to his seat as the “chilled dude” before a turn of circumstances has him running around the stage either stressed or excited at the prospect of a new horizon.
Marie Jones’ costume choice makes them look like extras from Baywatch but they are hopeless as lifeguards and the use of make-up adds to the humour too with Howie possessing a ‘t-shirt tan’ and white feet against tanned legs in the first act. Simple, but clever.
Howie and JJ are under the watchful eye of the director of Leisure Services, Brendon, played by – as in Manchester – Kieran Cunningham, who they must impress to gain the two vacant posts at the more welcoming Banna Strand beach.
Cunningham plays the part of Brendon well - every employee’s nightmare – and a sort of David Brent type figure. The scene where he shows Howie his swimming technique certainly has similarities to the ‘Brent dance’ in The Office. Very funny.
As a sub plot, the inclusion of the unstable and jilted bride Ursula (Jessica Regan) is an interesting one. Regan has some of the funniest lines and scenes as the suicidal bride and keeps the story flowing because, at times, the play loses its way a little in the first act as the two central characters seem to repeat themselves a bit.
The Flags is certainly a great night out, though, and the set alone is worth going to see.
*Photograph taken by Dave Evans