Bringing Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers to life in Palmerston North would have been a challenging task for Abbey Musical Theatre. This award-winning musical first played in 1983 about twins separated at birth, has offered big boots to fill.
Barry Jones’ direction of Blood Brothers certainly brought with it some high notes. His choice to embody the narrator in a devilish sinister character invisible to those on stage brought to life the haunting pressure of superstition upon the mothers Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons. Samuel Gordon possessed his role as the narrator with strength, and power, somehow managing to lurk in the shadows of the stage observing the surroundings without interfering with the ‘visible’ action. His role was crucial to delivering the tone and sense of foreboding which grew and grew.
Val Andrew as down on her luck battler Mrs Johnstone expertly delivered a depth of emotion that was endearing. Showing spirit, strength, and powerful love for her children while managing the harsh realities of poverty, Val avoided making a caricature out of her character. When she turned her back as Mrs Lyons snatched away one of her freshly born twins and screamed ‘just take one, don’t tell me which one it is’ (or something similar to that) I was nearly brought to tears. Her musical numbers glided along nicely with her character, confidently delivered and evocative.
How the show came to life when Mickey (Michael Doody) and Edward (Tyrell Beck) hit the stage! Still raw from the heart-wrenching scene of Mrs Johnstone’s baby being snatched away from her and his twin brother by a selfish and manipulative Mrs Lyons (Joanne Sale), Mickey and Edward hit the stage playing their ‘nearly’ eight year old selves. Raucous laughter followed for an audience needing light relief, as these guys played their parts to the hilt! It must have been a tough gig for a couple of adult males to embody such childish traits but they both wriggled into their costumes and transformed themselves into joyous little boys who won the audience over. Vocally these two were harmoniously matched!
Joining them as a partner in crime was lovable Linda played by Lottie Perry. Linda was a tomboyish up for anything tough little girl whose heart led her down a tragic path with the brothers. Lottie carried her performance with grace and charm really shining on stage.
Mrs Lyons played by Joanne Sale, so manipulative that she tricked her husband into thinking that the child she stole was actually their child, put a lot of effort into portraying the slow descent into madness that her lies and secrets had caused. Mr Lyons (Gary Clark) played his solid and dependable, if not slightly naive, husband role with a really natural and believable style.
The joyous interlude provided by the young boys was short lived and left me hoping for a happy resolution to the problem faced by the twins who grew up before our eyes to become young men inhabiting opposite sides of society. This transformation was well performed by Michael Doody and Tyrell Beck with the assistance of the ever present and foreboding narrator who forced the impending sense of doom he knew was inevitable upon the audience.
The ensemble cast sat nicely in the background although the milk-man looked to have been playing around quite a bit! He played many roles from milkman to gynaecologist and everything in between. His distinctive look could not be disguised so the choice to jokingly reveal himself was a good one.
The set was clever and dynamic, with shifts from scene to scene managed fluidly. Little brick houses that opened and closed seamlessly to reveal the hidden intimate interiors, and props turning up on stage as easily as if they had just walked on themselves, meant that the setting was never jarring or confusing.
Barry Jones acting also as Musical Director conducted a band which delivered live music adding an enjoyable ambiance.
Not being a big fan of the musical genre (seriously just say what you mean, don’t make a song and dance out of it) I was delighted that this production was more like a play with some songs.
This rendition of Blood Brothers was enjoyable to watch, and nicely delivered.