Recently AussieTheatre’s Sonny Clarke caught up with director Tim O’Connor to ask him about the up-coming Brisbane production of Willie Russell’s Blood Brothers.
Ten years ago, some fourteen years into Blood Brothers’ record breaking run on London’s West End, Tim O’Connor stumbled, jet-lagged and weary, off an inbound flight and was immediately dragged along to see a musical he’d never heard about.
“I wasn’t really keen and I had never really heard of the show before. But once it started I was totally hooked and by the end I was bawling my eyes out and leading the standing ovation”, remembers O’Connor.
Loosely based on Dumas’ Corsican Brothers, Willy Russell’s Olivier Award winning Blood Brothers explores the theme of nature versus nurture when a poverty stricken mother is forced to separate her twin baby boys at birth. As the estranged boys grow, their paths continue to cross and they must deal with the devastating realities of imposed social divisions that choke the instinctive bonds of brotherhood.
In November 2012 the curtains closed for the final time on the musical after an astonishing twenty-four years at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. Somehow it seems fitting that Tim O’Connor and Harvest Rain Theatre Company should be the ones to bring Blood Brothers to Brisbane, with the season opening on 1 August at the Cremorne Theatre.
For O’Connor however this is not just about indulging in nostalgia for a widely revered play.
“I wanted us to approach the show as [if] this was the first time it was ever being staged anywhere and to just work directly from Willy Russell’s script, rather than from any preconceived ideas we have of how Blood Brothers should be done”, explains O’Connor.
When reconnecting with the story, O’Connor found a new appreciation for Russell’s writing. He discovered a depth that he hadn’t recognised before and this, to the director, is the key to keeping the production fresh and enticing new audiences to experience the phenomenon.
“The show spans a thirty year period. So in two hours we track almost three decades, which means sometimes we’re making massive jumps in time – a character leaves the stage one minute and comes back a minute later, five years older. So we have to dig into the writing to fully discover what happened to them in that five years. It’s an exciting but exhausting process!”
Seemingly obsessed with playing Willy Russell creations, Amanda Muggleton (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine) reprises the role she was “born to play” as poverty stricken mother Mrs Johnson, while Queenslanders Zack Curran and Shaun Kohlman play her twin sons. Blood Brothers has garnered a cult status amongst some fans and the more hardcore have apparently been busy tweeting their intentions to fly in from around Australia to see the Brisbane show. However O’Connor believes there is room for a wider audience to enjoy this legendary tale:
“The great thing about Blood Brothers is that it’s famous for being a musical for people who don’t usually like musicals. It’s very far removed from traditional musicals like Cats, or The Sound of Music, or Wicked. It’s almost like a play with music and it’s very accessible, funny and moving. It has something for everyone. So for all those people out there who say ‘I hate musicals’, you have to see this show, it will change your tune.”
So when Harvest Rain Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre team up to present Blood Brothers this August, they’re not just presenting a new rendition of Willy Russell’s world famous musical but they are presenting a slice of history; a history of modern theatre, of London’s West End and even of Director Tim O’Connor who has waited so patiently for his chance to direct this very show.
Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, 1 to 17 Aug 2013