The Festival Players’ second show of 2007 marked the debut of Suzanne Emerson as director, as the company took a rare step away from musical theatre to stage Willy Russell’s original play, rather than the West End musical.
Director Suzanne Emerson
Musical Director Brian Thomas
Lighting Design Ed Hopkins
Sets Dominic Plunkett
Costume Design Liz Milway
‘Blood Brothers’ is best known as the award-winning musical, which has been running in the West End since 1988 to great critical acclaim, However, this Festival Players’ production was of the original Willy Russell play, containing just a single song from the musical (‘Marilyn Monroe’). The basic premise – in essence a commentary on the British class divide through twins separated at birth and raised at opposite ends of the social spectrum – is the same as the musical, although there are several deviations in the plot, particularly during Act 2.
Sara Bennett, in the central role of Mrs Johnston, gave a solid performance and coped will with her opening solo, under the musical direction of Tommy Thomas. Kyle Hubbard portrayed an endearing Eddie, who grew from innocent childhood to responsible adulthood with ease. Matthew Peacock was at his best as the young, mischievous Mickey, where he brought out the humour of the role well. However, he struggled somewhat with the Liverpudlian accent, especially during the more emotional scenes. Despite their obvious physical difference, Hubbard and Peacock developed a believable rapport as the twins, playing a particularly memorable scene when Eddie offered Mickey advice on dating. Kayleigh Orrock’s performance as Linda was convincing and her accent never wavered.
Unusually, the part of the Narrator was played, in Director Suzanne Emerson’s words, as “a gossipy neighbour – the sort who gets into your head if you have something to hide.” I must admit that I was rather apprehensive when I read this approach in the programme, but was pleasantly surprised that it worked rather well, with Geraldine Hindley, in the role, observing the entire action of the play from the balcony and commenting on it, as the Director intended, in a suitably scandalised manner. Sophi Berridge played all other roles (milkman/doctor/policewoman) with versatility.
The outstanding performer of the evening was Stephanie Hamer as Mrs, Lyons. She portrayed the character’s gradual decline from middle-class respectability to unstable paranoia flawlessly and captured her emotional turmoil perfectly.
Staging was deceptively simple, with the transformation from Mrs Johnston to Mrs Lyons’ homes represented by clever lighting (dowdy lamp or glittering chandelier!) and prop changes. Sound was used effectively to conjure outdoor scenes. One comment, which is more a criticism of the play itself than of the production, is that a lot of the character development is portrayed through ‘snapshots’ of the characters’ lives, which inevitably involves very short scenes. As the stage set-up in this production precluded the use of blackouts, this sometimes slowed the pace as performers from one scene had to leave the stage and the next performers take their places before the action could continue.
Costumes effectively distinguished between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, with Kayleigh Orrock’s clothing, in particular, summing up the fashions of working-class Liverpool, with skirts so tight that I was concerned she might not be able to get out of them again!
In all, Suzanne Emerson should be extremely proud of her directorial debut. The final scene, where Eddie and Mickey are shot by Mrs Lyons, was directed particularly imaginatively, using a ‘freeze-frame’ effect and a slick lighting change to capture the climax (I can only imagine the hours of rehearsal that went into getting this right). If this is the Festival Players’ first attempt at a play, I look forward to seeing their future productions!