Blood Brothers (Directed by Tim O’Connor for Harvest Rain) is a musical in two very distinct acts – act one is enraptured by the delightful ignorance of childhood when twin boys, separated at birth meet by chance and become best friends regardless of the social chasm between them.
Zack Anthony Curran (Mickey Johnston), Shaun Kohlman (Edward Lyons) and Stacey de Waard (love interest Linda) are very convincing as their seven year old characters with high-energy Lewis Edwards relishing the role of Mickey’s ratbag older brother Sammy.
Their childhood is free from the burdens that torment their parents and this is evidenced by the high singing spirits of an ensemble of neighbourhood children in brash musical numbers like “Kids Games”. All the while lurking in the background Mrs Johnstone (Amanda Muggleton) and Mrs Lyons (Julie Cotterell) try to best play the hand that fate (and each other) has dealt them – one woman rich and barren the other poor and thronging with children. Both women think they’ve gotten away with their plan but the frivolity of the first act is soon darkened by the looming cloud of act two and the narrator (a strong character by Josh Te Paa) grimly warns us “a debt is a debt, and must be paid”
The children are young adults now – Stacey de Waard is easy to watch grow through the ages of her character – and the friends are about to become painfully aware of their legacy. Mickey soon finds himself out of work (retrenched by Edward’s own father) and the innocent mask of youth starts to rip away at the seams planting the seed for a dreadful conclusion – no-one will win here.
Willy Russell’s much revered script is certainly timeless in regard to the underlying truths that echo beneath his story (that heartbreaking yet doomed bond between Mother and Son, the classlessness of children within a world so violently ruled by class and the suffocating inevitability of inheritance) yet the show is still unavoidably dated in some ways – the cockney accented displays of poverty which at times distorts the dialogue, the connection between the life of Mrs Johnstone and that of Marilyn Munroe is a little lost on younger audiences, the ingrained superstition that leads a mother to fearfully honour her agreement to give up her son is too underplayed to be believable and the soundtrack is a saxed-up eighties relic but more concerning is that I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by what should have been an emotional story. It took me a few days to realise why; The Bold and the Beautiful and other such television soapies have done this story ad-nauseam since Russell’s script first moved theatre audiences some thirty years ago.
That isn’t to say that Harvest Rain’s Blood Brothers is not an enjoyable show. There was no shortage of impressive performances to behold; Curran, Kohlman & particularly de Waard are worth mentioning again for their exciting and energetic performances and Muggleton and Cotterell are natural, moving and seasoned professionals but for me, Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers has not aged as well as some of the other great melodramatic musicals and perhaps this is why it’s historic West End run has now come to an end.
I know die-hard fans will crucify me for suggesting this but I couldn’t help wonder if this production could have been refreshed at all in order to appeal to a newer crowd. Tim O’Connor has attempted this by expanding on the narrator’s character to include a surprise twist at the end of the show but perhaps O’Connor’s own respect of Russell’s great play has prevented him from pushing the boundaries further. Blood Brothers will definitely appeal to the generation of women (now in their fifties) who raised their sons alongside Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons troubled two and anyone who has a twang of nostalgia for the legendary musical.
Blood Brothers is playing at The Cremorne Theatre until August 17.