Blood Brothers, as written by Willy Russell, is one of the most enduring musicals in the world. An institution on the West End since 1988 (where it is still playing to this day), the relatively simple but poignant story of two brothers separate at birth but drawn together by fate clearly has a powerful popular appeal. It’s easy to see why with the run currently playing at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, featuring Rebecca Storm returning to the role that made her a star, giving a powerhouse performance in a top-notch production.
I had never seen the musical before. I’d heard the name, knew the association with Rebecca Storm, but I ultimately was unfamiliar with the work. When the better half suggested she’d like to catch a performance at the Gaiety, she suggested it best that I go in uninformed. No on-line research, no googling, not even a query to the relatives who had seen the show years ago (although a straw poll confirmed their affection for it). I can honestly say that I did not expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I actually did.
I’m a big fan of the eighties, and there’s an undeniable eighties feeling to Russell’s play. It’s obviously saturated through the work itself, with musical numbers about the recession and even the songs themselves have a strong synth-heavy vibe to them, and the production heavily (and cleverly) plays up that sense of nostalgia, with Sammy wearing a Status Quo jacket and other members of the cast dressed in such a way as to evoke the period. It’s cheesy, but it’s fun and never overwhelms the musical. It’s just there in the background to be picked up on.
The storyline’s a bit trite and fairly obvious, but then most big iconic stories are. The notion of two brothers separated at birth being drawn together by fate is an admittedly hokey set-up, but it requires no more suspension of disbelief than the idea that characters can spontaneously burst into song with an orchestral accompaniment. Besides, the charm of Russell’s musical doesn’t necessarily derive from the set-up, which is big and broad enough to give the story a sense of scale, but from the character moments and interactions.
The play opens in such a way that it’s easy to deduce how it’s going to end, but the journey itself is engaging and entertaining. Helped by a rather wonderful set design, which is both epic in scale and also endearingly low-key at times, it’s the little moments that make Blood Brothers, as we watching the interactions of the cast growing up together and apart. As such, a lot of the musical’s success rests with the cast bringing those charming characters to life, and the leads do great work in the roles of the eponymous brothers. There’s something delightful surreal in watching the same actors play the roles of the kids from seven (“nearly eight”) through to adult life, but both manage to knock it clean out of the park.
It’s a great night of musical theatre, for anybody with an interest in taking in a popular and beloved piece of eighties theatre. The Gaiety stages the production well, and the cast all have a handle on their roles. If it’s anything you’d be interested in, I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a shot.