Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers is a captivating musical about two twin boys separated at birth, their subsequent chance encounter, the heart-warming friendship that develops, and later, their tragic demise.
The musical has a script you will fall in love with the first time you hear it and an emotive storyline that drags you whole-heartedly into the lives of the characters. With this winning combination it is little surprise the show won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical when it debuted in 1983 and that the West End revival in 1988 went on to become one of the longest-running musical productions in history – still running in 2011.
Congratulations must go to the cast of Metcalfe Playhouse’s production of Blood Brothers for their enduring levels of energy throughout the performance. With a relatively small audience in the large auditorium it was difficult for the actors to feed off any atmosphere, yet this did not deter them and they still gave it their all during the two and half-hour musical. Clearly their efforts were rewarded judging by the positive comments from audience members at the conclusion.
Amanda Muggleton, best remembered for her role as Chrissie Latham in the TV show Prisoner, gave a worthy performance of struggling single-mother Mrs Johnstone. Muggleton played the character with perfect balance. She was both “rough,” yet warm-hearted. Her singing was not characteristically beautiful, she struggled in the higher range, but it was well suited to her character. Though I can see the attraction of casting someone as well-known as Muggleton in the role, I could not ignore the fact that she was too old for the role. Given that for the majority of the show Mrs Johnstone is aged somewhere in her 20s and 30s, it did not make sense to have a 60 year old in the role.
This casting decision also meant that Mr and Mrs Lyons were of a similar age and once again this did not make sense.
There were a few other decisions made during production that also left me scratching my head. Why for instance did the ensemble appear mostly in suits during the first half when they spent large amounts of time scrambling around the floor as youth? Why were stuffed toys used to represent farm animals when other props had been minimal or actors had simply mimed, leaving things to our imagination?
There were issues with the music as well. The opening scene started without warning and was so loud patrons nearly jumped out of their skin. The opening number was my least favourite in the show and direction did little to give it meaning or make it more alluring. At time microphones were screechy and the actors sounded like they were miles away, disconnecting them from the audience. During a moving scene where Mrs Lyons’ fears came back to haunt her, the use of the violin was incredibly distracting. The sound was more reminiscent of noisy bed springs or a creaking roof, so much so that it almost made a mockery of the scene.
In Simon Thompson’s rendition of My Friend he suddenly breaks his character voice of Mickey and we hear a voice that is worthy of a Les Misérables score, but once again this decision seems a strange one made worse by the fact he reverts back to his youthful, lower-class voice half way through the number. Though obviously a stylistic choice by the Director, it didn’t seem to gel with the rest of the production.
WAPPA student and winner of the Equity Guild Award for Best Newcomer, Nick Maclaine gave a stand-out performance in his role as the twin Eddie. His transition from youth, to teenager to adult was remarkable and extremely believable. It was an absolute pleasure listening to his performance of I’m not saying a word, and I am sure I was not the only woman in the audience that was putty in his hands at that moment.
Other solid performances came from narrator Ian Toyne, Mrs Lyons Sarah McNeill and Linda played by Julia Hern.
All-in-all a wonderful musical with a memorable script and an ending that is likely to having you wiping away a tear or two.
IAJ International presents
by Willy Russell
Director John Senczuk
Venue: Metcalfe Playhouse | 12 Lake Street Northbridge
Dates/Times: 11 – 27 November, Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday 11.00am; Saturday 2.00pm; Sunday 3.00pm
Tickets: $67.00 (Standard); $57.00 (Concession); $20.00 (Student Rush )
Bookings: 9228 1455 | www.empyrean.net.au