Is our future life decided by nature or nurture? How much do our surrounding effect the route we take in life? That’s the question that Willy Russell has been putting to audiences. Blood Brothers has been a highly successful musical, running in the West End for the last 23 years but, prior to the musical, the show started life as a straight play and Two Rivers Theatre Company now bring this version to the Sir John Mills stage.
Originally commissioned for secondary school children to perform in 1981, this is a smaller scale version of what the musical would eventually become. With fewer characters than the musical, it focuses more tightly on the human drama.
Life in 1960s Liverpool is hard; it may be the era of The Beatles but single mother of seven Mrs Johnston is struggling to make ends meet. When she discovers that she is expecting twins the burden is too much and she reluctantly agrees to give one of the boys to her wealthy employer. It’s not a decision taken lightly and one that she soon regrets but trapped she feels unable to renege on the deal.
As the years pass the two boys grow inexplicably drawn to each, ultimately with disastrous repercussions.
As a musical the show is immensely moving, but it works equally well as a straight play. Yes, those in the audience familiar with the musical may have to resist the urge to hum along but the small scale approach works well; focussing attention on the economic struggles of the period and the dilemmas faced to keep food on the table.
There are some strong performances in Kay Friars’ minimalist but effective production. Georgy Jamieson delivers a nicely detailed portrayal as Mrs Johnson, torn between the love for her newborn sons and the wish to allow at least one the chance of a more prosperous future. Adults playing children on stage is always a potential minefield but Mark Watts and Rob Aldous work well as Eddie and Mickey, equally believable as precocious seven-year-old as more world weary 20somethings.
In a move that echoes Liverpool’s musical heritage, the piece is underscored nicely with music from the era and the ever passing time is conveyed effectively through the use of projections of period newspapers.
Overall the company works well and the tension is built nicely, the dramatic climax, however, does seem slightly rushed and loses some of the drama that has been so carefully crafted until that point.
Willy Russell always manages to construct plays that hold a mirror up to our lives and, as the country battles another period of job losses and purse tightening, Blood Brothers once again proves to be highly relevant to our times.
Two Rivers Theatre Company have allowed Russell’s script to shine through in a well-conceived and constructed production