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Blood Brothers – New Theatre Oxford

Book, Music and Lyrics: Willy Russell

Director: Bob Tomson

Reviewer: Pete Benson

[rating:4.5]

Blood Brothers New Theatre OxfordBlood Brothers is Willy Russell’s masterpiece. It is so well constructed it would be difficult to fail to make it work. You can feel Russell’s heart and soul in the writing and you would have to have a stone where your heart is not to be moved. Blood Brothers presents us with themes of Shakespearian proportions, love, jealousy, paranoia and the most tragic of irony all bound in with superstition so omnipresent that it takes on the quality of a curse. In the last lines of the play Russell challenges us to decide whether the sequence of events is the result of the supernatural or that of class distinction. The whole play is an exploration of the question of nurture versus nature presented in a most appealing package. One moment you are laughing with abandon and the next Russell reaches into your chest and tears your heart out.

The eponymous brothers are played by Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson. Jones plays Mickey the socially deprived brother. He gives the young Mickey bags of charm and charisma contrasting brilliantly and tragically with the shuffling depressed man he becomes. Hutchinson’s privileged Eddie travels a different path from the gauche naïve preteen to the confident articulate man who sacrifices his own heart.

Maureen Nolan plays one of two tragic mothers. Her singing voice is absolutely right for her character’s songs. She sings with both laughter and tears in her voice and at times her vocals power out of the orchestration to great dramatic effect. Songs repeat and refrain throughout the show and the catchy melodies quickly become familiar to our ears. Perhaps at times the music is a little over orchestrated and could perhaps be pared down, indeedthe vocals are sometimes too low in the sound mix, particularly for the narrator.

The narrator, played by Warwick Evans, has an interesting position in the drama. At times he is a traditional story teller but he is also the portent of doom almost taking on devil like qualities. At key moments he interacts with the main protagonists ratcheting up the dramatic intensity.

The rest of the excellent ensemble slip in an out of multiple characters and are at their most energetic fun during the song Kid’s Games where they portray children playing street games; but still a darkness lurks just below the surface even of this up tempo joyful set piece.

The play is underscored with an atmospheric sound track which directs our emotions, making something as simple as the meeting of mother and son a heart wrenching moment before even a word is spoken.

This is a production directed with the bold broad brush strokes which the play demands. That is not to say that it doesn’t have its subtle moments.

If you have seen the show before I urge you to go again as a second viewing reveals new layers and intensifies the dramatic irony. If you have never seen it you are in for a treat. Tragedy has never been so much fun.

Runs until 14 September

Picture:Keith Patterson

 

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