7 July 2017, Tabard Theatre, Napier
If the combination of a heart-wrenching story of twins, separated at birth and raised on opposite sides of Liverpool in the 1960s, set to music, sounds like your cup of tea then get along to the Tabard Theatre’s production of Willy Russell’s cult musical, Blood Brothers.
The story centres around fraternal twins Mickey (Toby Hunter) and Edward (Sam Draper) whose struggling single mother is persuaded to give away one of them at birth to the wealthy middle-class woman she works for. The play then follows the themes of nature versus nurture with Mickey remaining in his birth family and Edward being raised in a middle-class family.
Why this has been set to music I am not quite sure as this did little to enhance the story. None of the songs have stayed in my mind apart perhaps from one of the main recurring ones that referenced Marilyn Munroe ad nauseam. There was a jaunty number that the kids sang about crossing your fingers but apart from that they were all pretty sombre. This is described as “one of the best musicals ever written” and as having won “many awards” so perhaps you’ll need to judge for yourself.
There was very little to fault in the Napier Operatic Society’s production though. The performance opened with the beautiful voice of Nicole Taylor in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone and the singing continued to be well-executed throughout. Liverpudlian accents were on the most part convincing, none more so than that of Rachel Griffiths playing the twins’ common love interest, Lynda.
The slowness of the first act, which established the setting for how the twins’ separation was to come about, was relieved in the following act with comic relief provided by the then (played) seven-year-old twins Mickey and Eddie. Both actors were utterly convincing in their portrayal of all ages as we traced them through their lives, culminating in their tragic deaths in their early 20s.
The set cleverly represented the lower class semi-detached house of Mickey’s family on one side of the stage and the more affluent Eddie’s house on the other; in between the two at the back of the stage was the familiar ubiquitous brick-arched railway bridge that served as both elevated stage and hide-away for the eight-piece band that accompanied the singing throughout. The band was for the most part hidden, being revealed once early on (so we knew the music was live) and again near the end .
The twins’ very different lives were demonstrably contrasted throughout the play, particularly so in the scenes where the boys have met and become friends. In the final minutes, when the truth is revealed to the twins, Mickey’s comment sums up their predicament as he realises he could have had all that Eddie had had; that he could have been Eddie.
This show itself was preceded by a two-course sit-down dinner, which exceeded my expectations: the vegies were cooked perfectly, the chicken was tasty and the chocolate saucy pudding was deliciously boozy.