After winning the Olivier Award in 1983, Willy Russell’s Blood Brother’s rapidly became one of the most critically acclaimed performances to date. With popularity barely diminished, the show came to Nottingham Theatre Royal in an attempt to steal our hearts and make us cry. And I can confirm, this is exactly what happened.
Staying loyal to Russell’s plot, the audience were transformed back to the 1960’s where they see a budding friendship between two boys from very different backgrounds, rich boy Eddie, played by Mark Hutchinson, and poor boy Mickey, played by Sean Jones. After years of growing up together and short breaks of separation, the two continue growing up with best friend Linda, (Danielle Corlass) until things take a turn for the worst. Both men die moments after discovering that they were twin brother’s all along, a secret hidden from them by their biological mum (Lyn Paul) who confesses to giving Eddie away to her boss (Sarah Buckley) as she could no longer afford to look after all her children.
“Chisnall’s narrative and sinister, but catchy, songs, reinforced the seriousness of the plot”
After quite a slow opening to the start of the production, the audience were greeted with a montage of the brothers’ deaths (a big spoiler alert if you weren’t aware of the plot) although this soon shifted to a light-hearted tone, and with an emphasis on comedy, had the audience in fits of laughter. However, although highly comedic, there were also elements of seriousness, a technique cleverly presented through narrator Dean Chisnall. Gradually becoming an ever present figure on stage, Chisnall’s narrative and sinister, but catchy, songs, reinforced the seriousness of the plot, acting as the conscious of the two mothers, and foreshadowing the fate of the two brothers. This was welcomed with a strong spotlight against a dark setting, making his presence unavoidable.
The simple lighting was matched with the simple set used in the production, with only a few scene changes to depict those necessary to the plot. This, in my opinion helped the audience to focus more on the plot rather than any inessential technicalities on stage.
Although, comedic at first, the second half of the play brought a sudden shift in mood. As an audience, we could see the transformation of Eddie and Mickey, achieved through the actor’s constant changing of costume to mirror generational trends, and the ever growing issues of puberty, employment and marriage. However, as evident from the plot, these issues become too overwhelming, as Mickey gets involved with crime from unemployment and consequently becomes imprisoned whilst dealing with clinical depression.
“Flashing lights, loud screams and echoing voice-overs depicting mental health”
The sinister mood is reinforced by the more complex use of lighting and sound, with flashing lights, loud screams and echoing voice-overs depicting an accurate visual representation of mental health. Along with this, the musical aspect was also reduced to sombre tones. With very little beat, the depressing musical numbers mirrored the character’s own mentality, creating a very different atmosphere to that in the first half of the production.
One very important and phenomenally expressed feature of the play, was the emphasis on childhood innocence and the class issue in the 1960’s. The policeman, played by Graham Martin, was the figure of class prejudice, as his scenes showed the comparison in his behaviour when disciplining Mikey and Eddie after some childhood foolishness. Mikey’s mother was shamed for having a poor and undisciplined family, which contrasted greatly to Eddie’s parents being told he was playing a small prank and that he caused no harm.
Class being an issue was an element greatly juxtaposed from the policeman to the children. The children’s costumes were exaggerated from worn out clothes to shirts and ties, to represent the class divide, although the children on stage were evidently not noticeable of these features, and instead played and sung together (although their high pitched voices and loud music made it very hard to understand them at times.)
“Their acting was faultless”
Young Mickey and Eddie were played by adults the whole time, a technique hard for the actors to grasp, especially when mimicking child behaviour and voice. However, with credit to Jones and Hutchinson, their acting was faultless, capturing the naivety, innocence and humour of any child of that exact age.
Director, Bob Tomson, and producer, Bill Kenwright, certainly encapsulated Willy Russell’s award winning play, causing the audience to laugh and cry as we were transported into the world of childhood innocence. This was by far one of the best plays I have ever seen, and with very little criticism, would highly recommend anyone to go and see it.
Image courtesy of Emma Heasman