On 21 March, Webster’s Theatre’s stage played host to Student Theatre at Glasgow’s Blood Brothers, a main-stage production of Willy Russell’s renowned musical-turn-play.
Set in 1960s Liverpool, Blood Brothers tells the tale of two brothers, Mickey and Eddy, who are separated at birth to two families of wildly contrasting social class and essentially two different worlds. Over time the two worlds begin to overlap, causing both hopeful promise and utter devastation. Although on paper a tale of two brothers, Conor O’Donnelly’s adaptation appears to go deeper than this. Rather, one feels it is a portrayal of two mothers living with the beautiful and difficult repercussions of the decisions they make as a result of their unconditional, unmitigating love for their children.
Blood Brothers is a timeless piece that offers ever relevant contemporary commentary on the devastating effects of division within society; rather than zooming in on a specific point in time, the play takes place over a lifetime, allowing insight into the true root of problems, causing us to reflect on our position in society, our own privilege and our own adversity as well as that of others around us.
The stage setup allowed for unquestioned fluidity for movement between locations and time which is no doubt difficult to achieve considering the magnitude of time and space that the piece covers. The two contrasting worlds are drawn out physically and clearly for you on stage with a line down the centre of stage separating the two stories of Mickey and Eddy, which occasionally intertwine.
The cast all shine in their respective roles, notably Mrs Johnson (Hanni Shinton) who is required to access a range of intense emotions, from outpourings of love to succumbing to fear and desperation virtually from scene to scene; she does so commendably. The stoic Mrs Lyons (Flora Robson) portrays a woman more silently struggling with her own demons. Many allusions are made to the misunderstood epidemic of a “manic” woman who is living a life of silent desperation and clinging on to her only devotion; her adopted son Eddy. She is also a subtle reminder that the privilege of financial security cannot solve all problems of the human condition.
The most stand-out performance was that of Mickey – Keir Aitken – whose convincing childlike physicality and larger than life magnetic charisma and charm delighted the audience. His performance alongside the equally charming best friend Eddy (Finlay McRobert) left me nostalgically longing for my own days of innocence. The first act allows for time to recount and reminisce on anecdotes from your own childhoods as my friend and I did during the interval.
A vein of suspense and tension is held firmly throughout thanks to themes of superstition, prophecy and circularity which remind the audience of impending doom by the soothing yet unnervingly powerful voice of the narrator (Alex Hayward) as he looms over the unfolding events.
A disorientating climatic finish leaves you emotionally overwhelmed, which is a real credit to the ensemble’s performance, but feels moderately rushed and jolting from previous scenes of play and harmony between the children. However, it is almost an impossible challenge to adequately represent the aging process in the mere span of two hours and, regardless, the whole cast do a phenomenal job of not playing into any aging clichés.
Unhinging, unflinching and relentless, Blood Brothers gives a raw, honest portrait of coming of age in two contrasting environments which leaves the audience with a sombre, sentimental longing for a more uncomplicated, simpler time, but more importantly a need for self-reflection and a desire for social change.