The stage production is wholly based on the book written by Willy Russell, a Liverpuddlian author, in 1983. In the story twin boys are separated at birth – fate conspires to bring them together in tragic circumstances. There are many issues developed in Blood Brothers. The first is the effect of class upon life’s outcomes. The twins start out with identical opportunities but after separation they are forced into two different classes with disastrous results. A second theme describes how obsessional motherly love can lead to the destruction of the offspring. The story compares the lives of two women separated by extreme class differences.
Superstitions have governed the mothers’ lives to the extent that the prophecy of death becomes reality. The set build was of very high quality – the two parallel rows of houses were built in three dimensions and were extremely realistic. At the onset of the show the stage is obscured by a gauze curtain, ingeniously lit using scarlet lighting with a swirling effect. This gives the impression of going back in time and also alludes to the theme of blood, as in Blood Brothers. On stage right is a row of dilapidated council houses and opposite is a row of London brick houses.
When an indoor scene is being played then a drop-down small backdrop descends and stage crew carry on the props. The whole width of the stage at the back utilises a sliding additional stage set at 6′ height. During street scenes this platform is used for added height and during the countryside scenes it is slid stage right and off. This is when a back projection is used to depict the countryside. Guns, both pretend and real are used several times throughout the play. When the children are young we see them use imaginary guns in play and then the theme progresses another stage when Mickey is given a toy gun.
Finally Mickey shoots Edward with a real gun. This demonstrates the theme of bloodshed. A locket is a central prop. Mrs Johnstone gives Edward the locket (in secret) as a leaving present. It contains a photo of Mickey and Mrs Johnstone together. Edward never removes the piece. Only at the end of the play when the men realise they are brothers is the true secret of the locket understood. A knife is the third significant prop, which is used by Mrs Lyons against Mrs Johnstone. The attack fails but the knife is significant as it continues the theme of bloodshed.
The costumes worn were of the 1960s. Where Mickey wore overlarge and highly stretched grubby clothes, Edward wore similar things but which fitted properly. Sammy was the token bad boy and dressed as such, wearing a black biker’s jacket and jeans. As the twins grew older they dressed more similarly. It was always possible to know which twin was which, as Mickey always looked scruffier. The lighting changed with different settings. Generally the light in the street scenes gave the impression of a dull day and was noticeably brighter for the countryside.
The narrator was lit by spotlight, as was Mrs Johnstone when singing. At these times the rest of the stage would be blacked-out. At times of violence such as the shooting, brief bursts of strobe lighting is used. This heightens the degree of shock. As a musical there was a considerable amount of singing! Most of this was sung live and amplified. One contradiction was when a pre-recording of a small group of children was played when Mrs Lyons was considering harming Mrs Johnstone. They sung of madness and this was successful as they distorted the sound.
It felt like you were inside her head. The quality of the sound was great and was made very rich with the addition of an orchestra on stage. In the final scene a gun is fired followed by a volley of gunshots. Certain element of the staging focuses the audience’s attention. In an early scene Mickey is a small boy. As a mature male, playing this scene it could easily look ridiculous and not believable. I believe that clever staging drew the audience in. The actor used large, expansive movements, almost overexagerated and this made us believe this person really was 4 years old.
In the final scene there is another example of good staging. Mickey is clearly highly disturbed and torn between his mother and Edward. He is distressed and the audience knows that disaster is near. Mickey fires the gun and is himself then felled by the police. The tension felt by the audience is immense and the gunshots make them gasp. The quality of the staging was so realistic that it made some of the audience burst into tears, almost as I it was someone they knew. Voice, movement and expressions are used to make strong personalities out of characters.
Mickey’s voice was particularly memorable. As a child he was able to demonstrate excitability at the slightest provocation, yet later, whilst taking mind-altering medication his voice took on a tired, depressed tone. In the final scene we can hear the fear and confusion clearly through his voice, Different styles of movement were used to differentiate between the twins. Edward for example, walked tall and proud with great posture. His gestures such as handshaking were crisp and clean whereas Mickey’s movements were loutish, laddish and ill defined.
In terms of facial expression the two mothers could be compared. Mrs Lyon’s face was hard and sharp as she demonstrated being on edge. Mrs Johnson’s face was the complete opposite. We could see every emotion cross her face. We could see she was a very soft and kind mother. When Mickey and Edward were shot the tragedy she displayed on her face was unbearable to watch. The direction of Blood Brothers was at once both strong and delicate. The role of the narrator was a good example of this. One of the main threads of the show is the persistent presence of the devil.
The narrator is always last to enter the stage and is also always the last to leave and he makes frequent reference to the devil, ” You know the devil’s got your number You know he’s right beside you “. His movements were always subtle and the director always placed him out of direct eye-line so you actually had to make an effort to look for him. After a while the audience could begin to anticipate his arrival and so suspense was created. Blood Brothers has several social comments to make. The primary theme portrays how different class can define how we ultimately end up in life.
The twins begin with identical chances but once separated and brought up by mothers from a different social standing their life outcome can vary enormously. Entwined tightly with social class is a second theme of superstition and how it can affect our lives. The narrator constantly reminds us of superstition, he appears to have knowledge of future events. Early in he play he infers that the story is going to be black, “There’s shoes upon the table, an’ a joker in the pack, The salt’s been spilled and a looking glass cracked,
There’s one lone magpie overhead. ” A third reference to society’s social affairs concerns how people became trapped in the poverty of 1960s Liverpool inner city existence. There are many examples of characters aspirations of better things, eg ,”I wish I was our Sammy ” and ” I wish I could be like….. my friend” . It may make the audience consider the injustice of poverty. The play is set in the 1960s, Liverpool. At this time Liverpool was struggling through a period of considerable deprivation, mainly as a result of closure of the shipyards.
People affected were treated frequently as second-class citizens and the locality was affected by mob culture. I don’t believe that there is any obvious comparison made between then and now but I do believe that the main themes of social class, poverty and superstition can apply to any generation. I really enjoyed this performance. The quality of acting, staging and effects was exceptional. I particularly appreciated the design of the sets and how a single set can be adjusted with the simplest of additions. Richard Slade 10JDB Mrs Jones Total Word Count of 1393.