Blood Brothers | (a very reluctant) Theatre Review

“A Dated Insight into Modernity”
by Amelia Forsbrook for remotegoat on 05/07/10

It was with a certain degree of trepidation that I entered Cardiff’s New Theatre to view this musical. I’m always a bit wary of shows that, like this one, have more than two actors with arms outstretched on the flyer. If Blood Brothers was a eighteenth-century Gothic horror set in a monastery, I’d be right there without a second thought. The fact that it’s supposedly an ‘exhilarating musical’ brought me out in the kind of cold sweat that even Ann Radcliffe couldn’t generate. I started fearing a superficial emotional wipe-out that would generate a depressing and cynical evening spent sat between a bunch of blubberers (apologies to my company, no direct insult intended).

To some extent, my suspicions were confirmed. The emotional power of the narrative is somewhat undermined by the rich vibrato of the cast, and serious issues are skirted over with a deeply unsatisfactory rapidity. For me, content and medium came together in a dysfunctional marriage where the vocal techniques incorporated worked as an inoculation against any potential stirrings of sentiment.

Yet, beyond its showy songs, there is an interesting historical opposition at work in this piece, rendering it fascinating viewing for the modern audience. Blood Brothers occupies a curious position in time. Looking back to the Eighties, a decade that will never go down in history as the most glamorous and widely cherished period, the musical brings a rock-anthem influenced soundtrack to a tale that is, arguably, still relevant today. The result is a work that straddles the violently opposing mindsets of ‘dated’ and ‘nostalgically powered’.

Perhaps what causes us to cling so confidently to the view that Blood Brothers provides a reminiscent journey into the past is its echoes of today’s culture. As more and more unemployed men and women join the line that pauperised twin Mickey waited in long ago to collect his benefits, it’s easy to see why this is an appropriate play for these troubled times. One of the greatest qualities of Blood Brothers, then, is how it allows the senses of dissatisfaction and displacement of Thatcherism to return with an artful vengeance.

Yet a suggestion that this is thoroughly relevant to a contemporary audience must come with a generous pinch of salt. While its dismissal of class snobbery is always healthy, Blood Brothers’ attitude to anti-depressants seems so misguided there is a danger of the play being deemed irresponsible if we are to interpret it as a herald of modern existence.

If you are prepared to put all preconceptions about musicals aside, this is a play with one universal lesson. With its enticing storyline of twins separated at birth, we are reminded that there is always only a thin line between what we hold as binary oppositions. As the mother at the centre of the story, Mrs Johnstone sings, ‘you’ll never ever learn that nothing’s yours on easy terms’, we are gently reminded of the lifelong struggle to assert ourselves in a world where the divisions we firmly believe in are constantly challenged. Moving in its impression from a irritating musical to a rich commentary, this is a somewhat transient yet ultimately problematic piece.

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The Woman in Black | Theatre Preview

THE WOMAN IN BLACK
New Theatre, Cardiff
Mon 14-Sat 19 June 2010

Remember the ghost stories you used to tell? If you were anything like me, you would have had the torch pointed at your chin and you would cackle devilishly when your fearful audience were (understandably) on edge for the rest of the night. Well, now it’s time for payback.
After 21 years in the West End, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is continuing its UK tour throughout June. Capturing the very essence of childhood ghost stories, this production taps into our irrational yet irreducible fears.
Hill’s prose could easily be the literary love-child of Charles Dickens and Daphne Du Maurier; littered with self-conscious references to Victorian Gothicism, this tale epitomises pure nostalgic horror as we see characters slowly regressing back to a time before technology, where there is no way of crying for help.
Stephen Mallatratt’s theatrical adaptation encases this terrifying tale within another narrative. Here, we witness Arthur Kipps, the protagonist of the novella, working with an actor to retell his ghostly experiences. Using the young actor to play him, and taking on the numerous secondary characters himself, Robert Demeger’s Kipps brings the horrifying story to life.
Set in a Victorian theatre, The Woman in Black brings the terror of east England’s isolating marshes to a very familiar place, letting the mysterious lady of its title continue her haunting of its audiences. It comes as no surprise, then, that there have been numerous real-life ‘ghostly encounters’ surrounding the show. You’ve been warned.
Tickets: from £8.50. Info: 029 2087 8889 / www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk

(first published in Buzz)