Final tour of Helen Forrester’s ‘By The Waters Of Liverpool’ opens next week

The life story of acclaimed writer Helen Forrester hits the stage for the very last time next week when By The Waters Of Liverpool opens at The Auditorium at M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool.

The eight-week tour visiting 13 venues across the country is the final chance to see her life story portrayed on stage.

During the final days of rehearsals, the cast and creative team welcomed a special guest behind the scenes ahead of the tour opening next week – performer and broadcaster Leanne Campbell, who played the very first Helen on stage back in 1994 in the premiere of Twopence To Cross The Mersey.

By The Waters Of Liverpool is the long-awaited sequel to the much-loved Twopence To Cross The Mersey which tells the heart-wrenching story of Helen’s early life in 1930s Liverpool.

By The Waters Of Liverpool Autumn 2023 UK Tour opens on Monday 4 September 2023 at The Auditorium at M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool with four performances only.

The tour includes five theatres across Liverpool City Region visiting Liverpool, Port Sunlight, St Helens, Southport, and New Brighton.

Liverpool-born performer and broadcaster Leanne Campbell played the very first Helen Forrester when the acclaimed author’s book Twopence To Cross The Mersey was first adapted for stage. It was premiered at the Liverpool Empire Theatre in 1994.

After hearing this would be the last tour of Helen’s work, Leanne couldn’t resist calling into rehearsals to meet the current cast and crew – almost 30 years since she played the very first Helen. It was especially poignant for Leanne to meet the current Helen played by Emma Mulligan, who wasn’t born when Leanne aged 13 pushed the rickety old pram on The Empire stage.

There have been 12 different Helens over the years. The musical version of Twopence To Cross The Mersey featured an ‘adult Helen’ as narrator – these were played by Eithne Brown, Barbara Thorne, Liz Robertson, Eleanor Bron, and Pauline Daniels.

The roles of ‘young Helen’ have been played by Leanne Campbell, Jamie Clarke, Emma Grace Arends, Maria Lovelady, Lucy Dixon, Jenny Murphy, and now newcomer Emma Mulligan will take the lead role for the very last time throughout By The Waters Of Liverpool Autumn 2023 UK Tour.

Leanne Campbell, who is now the voice of Radio City’s breakfast show, began her acting career at the age of 10 while training at the Elliott Clarke School of dance and drama. As well as playing Helen Forrester in Twopence To Cross The Mersey, other early roles included Annie at the Liverpool Playhouse.

After winning a scholarship to study at the prestigious Laine Theatre Arts, her theatre career continued in her home city of Liverpool as well as on tour with leading roles in Me And My Girl, Carousel, The Sound of Music, and Scrooge. She also played Pam in ITV drama Children’s Ward.

Leanne was headhunted for radio after appearing in panto in 2003. She is now one half of the Radio City Breakfast Show alongside co-presenter Scott Hughes, where they broadcast live every weekday morning from the top of the Radio City Tower – and is a Sony Radio Award winner. Leanne continues to perform on stage and in recent years has appeared in numerous pantomimes, as well as productions The Salon and Achy Breaky Bride. She is also a performing arts tutor, podcast host, and voice-over artist.

Leanne Campbell commented, “Playing the very first ‘young Helen’ back in 1994 when I was first embarking on my acting career was a very special experience – and I’m not sure where those 30 years have gone! I’ve always looked back upon it with such great affection, and so much admiration for Helen Forrester as a woman and a writer. Her life story is still so captivating, and I am sure people today can still resonate with her experiences.

“Meeting the final Helen has been wonderful. It was a real treat to go behind the scenes, it brought back so many memories. The cast are incredibly talented. Emma is delightful and she will play Helen with warmth and compassion. This is the final tour of Helen’s work on stage so I’d urge theatregoers and fans of Helen’s work not to miss By The Waters Of Liverpool.”

The final role of Helen Forrester will be played by newcomer Emma Mulligan. Emma is a 2021 acting graduate from East 15 Acting School. She is originally from Northern Ireland. Most recently she played the role of Marie in short film Undead Dilemma. Emma played numerous roles at drama school, including Dunyasha in The Cherry Orchard, Inez in No Exit, and Mattie-Fae in August: Osage County.

Emma Mulligan added, “When I was cast in the role, I threw myself into researching all about Helen Forrester. What a very special woman – inspirational, fascinating, and a real pioneer. And I will be putting everything I have into making this final voyage and chapter of Helen’s life story on stage a real tribute to her work and memory.

“It’s amazing when you think of all 12 actors who have played young and adult Helen. I’m thrilled to have met Leanne, we had a some really memorable conversations about Helen, her life, and the role. This is my first professional role – and I’ll take Leanne’s encouragement and words of wisdom with me throughout the tour and beyond.”

Theatregoers in the region can also see the production when it plays The Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight (Tuesday 12 September to Thursday 14 September); St Helens Theatre Royal (Monday 9 October to Wednesday 11 October); The Atkinson in Southport (Thursday 12 October to Saturday 14 October); before the tour concludes at The Floral Pavilion in New Brighton (Tuesday 24 October to Sunday 29 October).

Helen Forrester has written four volumes of million-selling autobiography Twopence To Cross The Mersey together with a clutch of best-selling novels.

Bringing Helen’s work to life on stage first began in 1992 when a chance meeting between an elderly tweed-clad author and a young leather-jacketed pop musician led to one of the most successful homegrown theatre productions since Blood Brothers. The collaboration and friendship continued until Helen passed away in 2011.

By The Waters Of Liverpool had embarked on a 17 theatre UK tour in March 2020 but was cut short after just three venues when Covid-19 struck and a national lockdown was enforced. A rescheduled tour for 2021 was again abandoned when the virus failed to abate.

The creative team are producers Rob Fennah and Lynn McDermott for Pulse Stage Productions and Bill Elms. The show is directed by Gareth Tudor Price and written by Rob Fennah.

Coronation Street’s Tom Roberts will play John Forrester, Helen’s father; Emmerdale’s Joe Gill will play Harry O’Dwyer, Helen’s love interest; with newcomer Emma Mulligan in the lead role of Helen Forrester. This is Emma’s first professional acting role. They will be joined by Lynn Francis, Daniel Taylor, Lynne Fitzgerald, Joe Owens, Samantha Alton, and Roy Carruthers.

Musician and playwright Rob Fennah said, “Although By The Waters Of Liverpool is technically a sequel, I’ve made sure it features sizeable chunks from Helen’s earlier book Liverpool Miss, together with flashback to Twopence To Cross The Mersey. I’ve even weaved in a storyline from Helen’s fourth autobiography Lime Street At Two. That way, those unfamiliar with Helen’s work still get a ‘complete’ picture of her life.”

Rob has remained friends with Helen’s son, Robert Bhatia, and this production is fully endorsed by the Helen Forrester Estate.

Helen’s Forrester’s son Robert Bhatia concluded, “The partnership between playwright Rob Fennah and my mother Helen, and her legacy, has been outstanding.”

By The Waters Of Liverpool has sold more than a million books. It is set in the 1930s after Helen’s father went bankrupt during the Depression. Her family were forced to leave behind the nannies, servants and comfortable middle-class life in the South West of England.

The Forresters chose Liverpool to rebuild their shattered lives. They were in for a terrible shock. Taken out of school to look after her young siblings, Helen is sick of being treated as an unpaid slave and begins a bitter fight with her parents for the right to go out to work and make her own way in life. But by 1939 and with Britain on the verge of war Helen, now aged 20, has still never been kissed by a man. But things start looking up for her when she meets a tall strong seaman and falls in love.

Helen’s literary achievements were further celebrated in 2020 to mark her 100th Birthday when an iconic Blue Plaque was unveiled at the Forrester family home in Hoylake on the Wirral, a place which featured heavily in her work.

Image: Emma Mulligan and Leanne Campbell with the cast in rehearsals. Credit David Munn

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