Interview: Fred Lawless and Preview Pharaoh ‘Cross the Mersey

By November 4, 2015


pctm-front-page-2Rehearsals have only just started for this year’s Christmas show at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre, but for writer Fred Lawless it’s virtually a year-round job.

Pharaoh ’Cross The Mersey runs from November 27 until January 16 and is likely to prove the latest success in a series of hits, which include Scouse Pacific and Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fazakerly, although creating a new comedy musical involves a lot more than just a clever pun for the title.

“We start thinking about the next show as soon as the last one ends,” says Lawless, who has created the show with Royal Court producer Kevin Fearon and director Howard Gray, who also directed last year’s Scouse of the Antarctic and has been musical director for all seven of the Lawless-penned Christmas shows since 2010.

“It’s the three of us working together until we come up with an idea. We don’t always start with the title. This time we knew it would be set in Ancient Egypt and then we came up with the title after that.

“Then I’ll go away, write out an idea on a single piece of A4, we sit down and talk about it and I’ll expand it to a 6-8 page synopsis. Once we’re agreed on the story I’ll do a scene-by-scene script of 40 pages.”

Lawless has been back living in Liverpool for 18 months after several years in Todmorden, Yorkshire and believes there’s no reason Pharaoh shouldn’t appeal to non-Liverpudlian theatre-goers, despite all the home town in-jokes.

“There are always going to be some Scouse references to locations and nightclubs but when I was Todmorden I invited some friends to the shows and they loved them. The Christmas shows are quite unusual in that they help to fund all the others at the Royal Court over the whole year so they’re quite important.

“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure because I’m quite confident the end result will be good. Some writers can be quite precious if they get asked to change a page here or there but you have to put your ego on hold. It’s not my play it’s everybody’s – you have to listen to others.”

For a true Blue Evertonian like Lawless, that sense of teamwork comes naturally, and is particularly poignant in the week fans paid their respects to legendary former player and manager Howard Kendall. Lawless has his own fond memories of the Goodison great, dating back to his days running the UK’s first kissogram company in Aigburth.

“Back in the 80s Everton were at Wembley about three years running and the club used to book us before the coach trip down. I’ve got a signed picture of me with Howard and one of our kissograms. They’re good memories.”

After a brief spell as drummer with A Flock of Seagulls, Lawless turned his hand to writing and a Radio 4 drama led to a a successful spell as a scriptwriter for Eastenders.

“It was the most watched TV programme at one stage,” says Lawless. “The trouble is, when the first episode I wrote was shown everyone I knew was out at a school parents meeting or something else so you don’t get to share the moment.

“I enjoy TV and radio but you can’t beat being in a theatre when the curtain goes up. It’s live and exciting and you get instant feedback at the end.”

Pharaoh ’Cross The Mersey runs at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool from November 27-January 16