Friday, 21 March 2014

Blood Brothers, March 22, 2014 ***

By Willy Russell, Manila Street Productions
Chapel off Chapel, March 20 until April 6, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 22, 2014
Stars: *** 
Review also published online in Herald Sun on Wed March 26, 2014 and later in print. KH

Chelsea Plumley

Blood Brothers, Willy Russell’s 1983 comic-tragic musical about twin boys separated at birth, is a scathing social commentary on the British class structure and nature versus nurture.

The musical elements are enormously successful in this production, not only because of Russell’s memorable tunes and gritty, witty lyrics, but also because of the accomplished three-piece band and assured musical direction of Andrew Patterson.

In the slums of Liverpool in 1958, Mrs. Johnstone (Chelsea Plumley) discovers that she is expecting twins after being abandoned with seven kids by her husband.

Her fatal error is to give one twin to her childless employer, Mrs. Lyons (Glenda Linscott), who is desperate for a baby, but superstition dictates that the boys must never know that they are brothers or they will die.

This combination of primitive superstitions and Mrs. Johnstone’s Faustian bargain with the devil sets in motion events that ultimately end in tragedy.

Russell’s writing is audacious and funny, retaining the earthy, didactic quality of its original incarnation as educational theatre for youth, and deftly incorporating rhyme in both dialogue and lyrics.

Director, Chris Parker, merely suggests the 1960s and 70s with simple costuming, and stages his production in an almost empty space, focussing our attention on characters, relationships and songs.

Plumley is undoubtedly the star as Mrs. Johnstone, delivering a convincing performance, nuanced characterisation and captivating singing, particularly in her poignant renditions of Marilyn Monroe and Easy Terms.

Gareth Keegan is magnetic and mischievous as Mickey, the cheeky twin that stays with mum, and his voice has a bright, attractive tone.

Keegan skilfully balances the innocence of the child Mickey with the despair and barely repressed rage of the damaged adult, and his poetic, childhood monologue, I Wish I Was Our Sammy, is sweetly affecting.

As his blood brother and unwitting nemesis, Eddie, Matthew Bradford is a suitably gauche upper-class twit, and his tuneful voice blends well with Keegan’s in their duets, Long Sunday Afternoon and My Friend.

Simon Wilton brings an edge of danger to the role of Narrator, playing the character’s ominous, rhyming dialogue with ease and delivering his potent song, The Devil’s Got Your Number, with passion.

 Linscott captures the fragility and fierceness of Mrs. Lyons while Lisa-Marie Parker is feisty and sassy as Linda, the girl whose love finally divides the twins.

There are numerous musical highlights in this production, particularly from Plumley and Keegan, but the direction and choreography are patchy, while the acting and accents are uneven.

There will always be slicker productions of Blood Brothers, but this version has sufficient merit to make it a must-see if you have never seen the show.

By Kate Herbert

Chelsea Plumley Mrs Johnstone
Gareth Keegan Mickey
Matthew Bradford Eddie
Josh Ellwood, Glaston Toft, Lisa-Marie Parker, Simon Wilton, Martin Lane, Hilary Watts, Glenda Linscott and Peter Hardy.

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