The Shankly Show was making its third appearance in the city to celebrate the 50th anniversary its subject matter – Bill Shankly – took charge of Liverpool Football Club.
Writer and director Andrew Sherlock has revived his play following performances during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year in 2008.
The word ‘legend’ is thrown around too easily but it quite simply sums up the Scottish-born Shankly. He is to football what Bjorn Borg is to tennis or even Muhammad Ali to boxing. A true legend.
The Shankly Show brilliantly combines live theatre with video footage to capture the emotions Shankly must have felt when in charge of LFC.
Alexander West as Shankly is the sole performer as he had been in previous performances. His appearance doesn’t instantly make you think he is Shankly – who could be? – but you start feeling some sort of a presence of Shankly through his voice. The same grizzly Scottish sound.
Credit must go to West for taking on the part because he is under tremendous pressure playing someone who means so much to one city. He enters the stage through the auditorium greeting people with the odd ‘you alright, son’ here and there.
Sherlock, however, keeps a lot of the attention on the story, not just Shankly’s but a period in Liverpool between his arrival in 1959 until his unexpected departure in 1974. West narrates and keeps the chronology of the story flowing as well as adding the odd bit of humour with some of Shankly’s famous sayings.
Sherlock cleverly involves the supporters through video footage and one particular funny moment is when a young boy is asked why do Liverpool fans make the most noise and in quick reply, the boy replies in Scouse tone, ‘because we’ve got big mouths’. Similar, one supposes, to Shankly himself. A united team.
The two act play is firstly in black and white, with the second act in colour, and set within the old boot room at Anfield.
The play celebrates Shankly’s achievement of taking the club from ruin in the second division to laying the foundations with first division, FA Cup and a UEFA Cup wins, whilst capturing his emotions when he faced challenges of telling once great footballers they had had their time to the decisions he made to build a new team to go on to achieve success, not failure.
It builds towards Shankly’s departure by emphasising the hurt he felt when he had to finally say goodbye.
The shock is captured on film through the supporters but the emotion is brought out through West. As the actor exits stage left, the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is heard. Shankly once said it was ‘not a song; it is a piece of advice’.