Loosely based on the 19th Century novella, ‘The Corsican Brothers’, Blood Brothers centres on the contentious nature vs nurture debate – are we products of our DNA or our upbringing? If our fate is dependent on variables beyond our own control, how is it that we can confidently know who we truly are as individuals and find solace in what we have, as opposed to continuously searching for what we do not? For centuries, one of the most effective means of studying this ongoing, philosophical and psychological dilemma is by longitudinally monitoring the lives of twins. Blood Brothers mirrors this methodology in following the lives of fraternal twin boys ripped apart at birth and brought up in ways that are extraordinarily socially contrasting, causing a polar opposite effect in the boys’ personalities, attitudes and socio-emotional behaviours. The narrative is a contemporary tragedy, with each brother possessing a tragic flaw that leads to their ultimate demise and calls for the audience to reflect on the biological and social influences that continue to be prevalent and detrimental to the lives of individuals. Such thought-provoking and moving content finds Blood Brothers often named one of the best musicals of all time.
With such complex and heart-wrenching matter to deal with, Aspect did well to show the acute difference in the quality of upbringing for each of the boys as well as the intense burning to fill the void left within them from the time they entered the world. This was done well through some obviously calculated artistic choices. Despite this however, the emotion necessary for the show was somewhat lacking and the characters and their stories were, at times, difficult to latch on to and connect with. As the show is known to be particularly gut-wrenching, tissues were made available at the end of the show with the anticipation of flowing tears however, the audiences eyes were left relatively dry.
As the curtain opened, the audience was met with a very striking and compelling visual. Two men hand in hand, dead, with a woman hunched over them in obvious distress – the rest of the cast positioned to be looking on in very effective formations. This staging was chillingly beautiful and was replicated as the curtain closed as well, offering an ominous and enduring bookend to be remembered. These two scenes offered so much of the emotion expected of Blood Brothers though it was a shame that many of the scenes between them did not hit this same mark and were a little bit hit and miss. While not all scenes call for powerful imagery, those that did sometimes fell a little flat. The use of set and costume (and at times, lighting), however, worked wonders in compensating for this and allowed for the audience to develop a better sense of the characters and their individual stories (as well as their interactions) and in turn derive emotion from their own experience.
The set pieces and costumes married well together to depict the extremities of the social spectrum. A gate in the middle of the stage separated two classes of people. On one side, run down homes with ratty furniture, children with dirty faces dressed in tatters and adults who cared very little for their own appearances. The other presented a very different picture with pristine homes, well-put together and tidy outfits and private school uniforms. While at times lighting appeared somewhat uninspired and somewhat bland, it was able to add to this contrast quite well, highlighting to the audience how they were to feel about those that resided on each side of the gate. The audience was very clear about who was more privileged and who struggled to get by whilst at the same time, very clear about what each side of the gate possessed that the other did not. Much of this came in the form of psycho-emotional deficiencies that had resulted from the separation of the twins rather than just material possessions, showing how these artistic choices did at times make up for the lack of powerful staging.
The sound quality was particularly poor. Many times cast either went unheard or, would find the sound peak causing an uncomfortable listening experience for the audience. Some cast members had two microphone headsets visible and still no luck. The inconsistency of the sound quality and the discomfort it caused proved distracting and was a contributor to being pulled out of the intended emotion of the show. While the musical and vocal direction seemed quite tight, despite some inconsistencies in the ensemble, it was a shame to have missed out on the potential power of the score and vocals due to this technical flaw. It is hoped that this issue would have been rectified after opening weekend as it was quite an obvious downfall that could make all the difference for closing weekend.
Due to the sound quality being poor, it was all the more difficult to connect with the characters due to some very heavy Liverpool accents which were hard to understand at the best of times. In saying this however, the accents used by the cast were quite authentic and consistent. Once the initial stage of trying to work out what was being said had passed, it was quite easy to follow the accents, if not for the sound quality
Ash Cooper as Mickey provided a very consistent use of vocal and physical performance. In portraying the 7 year old Mickey, he paid particular attention to mannerisms and nuances of a child who is made to find their own fun in life that worked well to captivate the audience. While at times his characterisation as a child was perhaps a little over the top, his depiction of the broken down man Mickey becomes, as a product of his disrupted and socioeconomically inept upbringing, proved impressive in stark contrast to the carefree child.
Phil Lam as Eddie offered a clear opposition to Cooper’s Mickey. His pompous and pretentious vibe was well received and gave the audience a clear understanding of how very important social upbringing is in shaping a life. Though Lam struggled with his vocals at times, and was a victim to the sound quality, this could be forgiven due to the consistency he presented in keeping up with his well-calculated characterisation.
Linda, as portrayed by Kate Seinfeld, was a joy to watch and a definite stand out. Her acting was very natural and she was able to commit wholeheartedly to the vast spectrum of emotions Linda experiences from a young girl to a struggling adult. Even in ensemble numbers, Seinfeld exuded a real confidence and charisma. I look forward to seeing more from Seinfeld in future productions.
At the outset of the show, John Davidson as the Narrator was a welcome presence, and provided a very eerie and purposefully uncomfortable experience for the audience. Davidson’s body language and facial experiences added to this feeling of unease, and his eye contact with the audience was a well-received intrusion. In saying this however, every time the Narrator was present, it was almost a carbon copy of the last time he had been on stage and it became very predictable and somewhat of a farce. This was a shame as Davidson’s performance was quite strong in itself, yet was hindered due to the repetitive nature of his appearances which very much took from the emotion rather than added to it.
The highlight performance of the production was most definitely Rachel Ledgerwood as Mrs Johnstone. Ledgerwood’s commitment to exploring the emotional turmoil of Mrs. Johnstone and the struggle she endured should be applauded. Her vocals were exceptional and unwavering. She worked well opposite Katie Lewis as Mrs Lyons who, at times, showed a fierce control over a troubled psyche and portrayed a sense of inner chaos quite well.
While there were some clear obstacles to overcome with this performance, Blood Brothers by Aspect provides audiences with a rare opportunity to spend time to reflect on their own lives and experiences, and further develop an understanding of what in our biology and upbringing constitutes a true sense of self as well as our individual and shared identities.