Brighton Year-Round 2021
Adapted from James Alexander Allen’s play and screenplay of Wayne Liversidge’s own life, Liversidge with Allen’s encouragement has redrafted the play as a narrative.
In 2018 James Alexander Allen’s dramatization of Wayne Liversidge’s own story as The Engagement was a stand-out start to my reviewing year, then starring Amy Sutton and Joshua Crisp alongside Philippa Hammond and Russell Shaw as Wayne’s or Jim’s older self. It was later trimmed to three actors. Sutton was explosive as the beautiful, hopelessly alcoholic Jenny, and her real-life partner Crisp coiled with unforgettable anguish in response. It’s had two further productions and Allen’s written a screenplay, now in pre-production.
Liversidge encouraged by Allen has gone on to recast this climactic moment in a novel, Love’s Poison. Nothing from the drama’s lost and much we didn’t know emerges. Liversidge, an award-winning actor with several screen shorts to his credit, knows what to leave out though.
Though production values make this a large-font, widely separated series of paragraphs, 150 pages still doesn’t convey how brisk this narrative is. A standard paperback might format it in eighty. It can be – and should be – read at a sitting. It’s that compulsive, that devastating and in the Greek tragedian’s sense, terrible: it’s already left many in tears, given the Amazon reports. I already knew the story but felt the same.
James or Jimmy finds himself after a dry spell persuaded by his fatherly landlord Henry to go dating. He meets Jenny, a beautiful multi-lingual university-educated woman who’s into him straight away. He can’t believe his luck as Jenny downs their reds and they’re hooked blissfully. She’ll do anything for him, persuades him to move from Henry’s cosy house in Brighton, to her daddy-subbed Hove pad. It slowly transpires though even doing everything for Jenny isn’t enough. Why for instance does Henry, Jim’s now ex-landlord, see something in Jenny he doesn’t like and warn Jim? Jenny’s always drinking from a water bottle, accuses Jim of not being serious. He ploughs his savings into an engagement ring. Jenny’s overjoyed but it doesn’t end there, where most romances start. Jenny unravels.
Help in the form of Jenny’s mumsy younger sister is at hand. Marie’s a trained mental health nurse and knows exactly what’s happening. These problems go way back, triggered by meeting their father with his huge expectations: Jenny wanted to be a beautician, it was never going to satisfy him.
Liversidge’s acting skills are abundantly on hand in handling crisp dialogue, rapid description, economy of scale and climax. It’s the more remarkable because clearly autobiographical. And given the similarity of drama and novel, and above all the step-by-step description of Jenny’s condition and responses to it, the fictive disclaimers might be just a little… fictive. This work drips a devastating authority.
Clearly Liversidge has crafted a story from a life. There’s hardly a redundant phrase, chapters unfold with a lucid heart-stopping inevitability. But there’s nothing, this writer feels, that didn’t happen. Quite apart from its compulsive readability, this is a work of key documentary value.
Given that, there’s little of the novelist’s compulsion to freight and skein the story with any detail not congruent to the truth in hand. It all feels too urgent for that, and the need to scope out a little residual wisdom is, given the story, unnecessary. It’s a plain, true tale; not a leap to magic-realist status.
Liversidge has though the novelist’s eye for telling details, pace, the economy of a story-teller who spins this from his own guts, and pitch-perfect dialogue. That takes courage and one wonders what he might achieve now he’s shown such mastery over his own shuddering ghosts. There are points when a more practised writer might have delivered say the epilogue with less rhetorical awkwardness, but even here Liversidge knows how to round his work off with a final telling sentence: the image of the West Pier, and its import, hangs lightly, like an abandoned cage, as metaphor over this work.
With a deeply attractive front cover, the volume is elsewhere a typical POD product with less than uber-sassy production values. This shouldn’t put you off. In Allen’s hands the sheer visceral force of this history is undiminished and anyone who sees The Engagement will be forever changed. In either format, it’s utterly compelling. Love’s Poison should be read by everyone.