Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
Willy Russell's hit musical is often dubbed a melodrama. But it always seems to me a Merseyside Greek Tragedy, complete with fate, chorus and catharsis – even the supernatural and a [screen] goddess.
The piece originated as a small-scale Theatre in Education production, with just the one song. And in this version the drama, freed from those swelling melodies, is all the more vivid. Although in CTW's production, the show lyrics do survive, lending a poetic force to the narration especially.
Christine Davidson's handling of the drama is spectacularly successful. The characters are clearly sketched, and the pace carefully controlled. The setting, with its Liverpool skyline and, later, pastoral idyll, has a high window, and an arched “entry” - both telling features well used. The two worlds which the twins, once parted, inhabit are evoked by the simplest details. There is constantly clever comedy, much of it caused by those worlds colliding. And the inevitable tragic ending is frequently, and movingly, foreshadowed in games with guns and catapults.
A hard-working cast brings Russell's characters to life – there's a good deal of doubling, with Marilyn Monroe [stunning] also Donna-Marie, the daughter who takes after her mother, and the milkman knowingly explaining that he's now the gynaecologist.
Stuart Moore makes a compelling narrator, relishing the doom-laden verse in his dramatic downlight.
The two lads – not perhaps “as like each other as two new pins” - are brilliantly done by Mark Ellis as the poshie from the Park – stiff, naïve, with a braying laugh – and Chris Edwards outstanding as the scally from the other side of the tracks, in a tirelessly physical and totally convincing performance; his decline into depression is heartbreaking. They work superbly together, whether in exuberant play, or as awkward adolescents, or in their tearful farewell.
The two mothers are Andrea Dalton as the childless woman driven to desperation and madness – her initial delight and her growing paranoia are skilfully suggested - and Cat Bailey as Mrs Johnstone. A truly great performance, this, exploring the torn emotions of this victim of fate, circumstance and class, and giving an impeccable unaccompanied “Marilyn Monroe”, the one song from the original, unplugged Blood Brothers.
The tragic tale has tremendous impact in the intimacy of the Old Court – we are swept along by the story and the sure-footed staging, discovering anew the dramatic heart of this popular success.
Blood Brothers runs at the Old Court until May 24. Largely sold-out, but a few walk-ins available each night for those prepared to arrive early ...
production photograph: James Sabbarton