Based on the late author’s million-selling autobiography, the play written by Rob Fennah, chronicles Helen’s early life during The Great Depression in 1930s Liverpool.
Featuring a cast of 9 playing over 40 characters, the period drama is set in the early 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression. Helen’s spendthrift father was declared bankrupt forcing the family to leave behind the nannies, servants, and beautiful middle-class home in the gentler South West of England. With nothing more than the clothes they stood up in, the
family of nine took the train to Liverpool where they hoped to rebuild their shattered lives. It came as a terrible shock to find the thriving, wealthy port Helen’s father remembered as a boy, the place his own father made his fortune, had long since gone.
Rob Fennah said: “This show is loaded with provenance. Helen was hands-on during the writing process so her army of loyal readers will get to see a true and honest representation of Twopence To Cross The Mersey. Along with the many hours of telephone conversations I had with her from her home in Canada, I have a stack of letters and faxes, crammed with little gems that never found their way into her books. On many occasions, Helen would travel to the UK and we’d get together to talk about the stage adaptation. It was fantastic to have her there, in person, to help me flesh out some of the lesser characters in the books, but ones
I felt would help bring the story to life on stage. Over the years, Helen and I became firm friends and I feel very privileged to have been entrusted with her most famous work.”
While 12-year-old Helen’s parents searched unsuccessfully to find work, she was taken out of school to look after her six younger siblings and the full burden of keeping house fell on Helen’s young shoulders. Having never had to manage a family budget in their previous life, the Forresters found themselves relying on meagre hand-outs from the local parish, charity organisations, and the kindness of strangers.
At the age of 14, Helen had finally had enough of her miserable existence and so began a bitter fight with her mother and father to attend evening school in an effort to educate herself and make her own way in the world. But Helen’s parents had no intention of
releasing their unpaid slave. They had other plans for their selfish daughter.
Rob continued: “Helen and I would often meet in places that were significant during her early life in Liverpool; places that were close to her heart. The Palm House in Sefton Park is case in point. Readers of Twopence To Cross The Mersey will know how she used to take refuge there as a child during the freezing winter months. The Kings Gap Hotel in Hoylake was another; she was born at her grandmother’s home just around the corner in Warren Road.”
Helen’s literary achievements were celebrated in 2020 when an iconic Blue Plaque was unveiled at the late author’s family home in Warren Road, a place which featured heavily in her work.
Rob concluded: “I remember the last time we met; we were standing outside the house in Hoylake and Helen was telling me how her grandmother had fallen out with her father after a huge family row over money. He had borrowed heavily from the family but was unable to repay his debts when the depression struck forcing him into bankruptcy. Condemning her son as a ‘worthless spendthrift’ she refused to have anything more to do with him. Forced to live in the slums of Liverpool and on the verge of starvation, Helen longed to visit her grandmother again convinced that, if she could explain how bad things were, she would
forgive her son and come to their rescue. But living on the other side of the River Mersey she needed tuppence for the ferry boat ride. This was something she didn’t have and so the family’s struggle continued for many years. When Helen began writing her memoirs and was searching for a book title, ‘Twopence To Cross The Mersey’ was the obvious choice. As we stood chatting outside the house it never struck me that this would be the last time I would see my friend in person and, more poignantly, the last time Helen would set eyes on her family home.”
Helen Forrester’s son Robert Bhatia said: “The partnership between playwright Rob Fennah and my mother Helen, and her legacy, has been outstanding. I saw the play during its last tour and the portrayal of my mother was utterly convincing.”
Twopence To Cross The Mersey is produced by Pulse Records Limited in association with Bill Elms. It is directed by Gareth Tudor Price.
Cast: Mark Moraghan, Daniel Taylor, Parry Glasspool, Jenny Murphy, Lynn Francis, Lynne
Fitzgerald, Robert Hudson, Roy Carruthers and Chloe McDonald.
This year’s nationwide tour of Twopence To Cross The Mersey will be followed by a tour of
its sequel, By The Waters Of Liverpool, in March 2023.
Adapted by Rob Fennah · Directed by Gareth Tudor Price
Produced by Pulse Records Limited in association with Bill Elms
Fully endorsed by the Helen Forrester Estate