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Review: Blood Brothers Adapts Beautifully to Cape Town Stage

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The smash hit musical by Willy Russell, which was the third longest running play on London’s West End,  has made its triumphant debut in Cape Town.  For the first time  ever, Willy Russell has allowed an adaptation of the original story,  moving it from a setting in Liverpool  to one in Cape Town, thanks  to some masterful persuasion from renowned South African director David  Kramer.

A Greek tragedy of a play, Blood Brothers is the story of twin boys,  Mickey (Ephraim Gordan) and Edward (Dean Balie) whose impoverished mother,  unable to provide for them both, makes the heartbreaking decision to  give one of them away.  Shot through with superstitions, the story  tells how fate conspires to bring the boys back together with terrible  consequences.

All the actors of this relatively small cast do a great job in creating  the energy and raw emotion of this doomed tale. Gordan and Balie in  particular portray the twins, at the boisterous age of 7, with childish  mannerisms and a playfulness that, rather than sliding towards silliness,  instead serves to highlight the sweetness in their relationship.

As the boys grow up Gordan’s portrayal of Mickey as a young and troubled  man wins the audience’s empathy with ease, regardless of his brimming  raw anger that is the root of the sadness in the story.  Bianca  le Grange as Mrs Johnstone brings an almost alarming familiarity to  her portrayal as a woman living on the Cape Flats. With her powerful  voice and vivid  emotions, she inspires a sense of deep pathos  for her and her sons.

The play’s  sadness is coupled with an ominous inevitability carried by the narrator,  Elton Landrew. Buhle Ngaba as Mrs Lyons also aids the tension in the  play, with taut expressions and an uptight body language as she obsesses  about keeping her adopted son a secret.

The music,  as with any other play touched by David Kramer , has its own distinctly  emotive sound and has been adapted by musical supervisor Alistair Izobell  to suit the Capetonian setting with, for example, a switch from references  to ‘the Devil’ to ‘the Tokoloshe’.

A fairly  simple stage set allows the storyline, the music and the actors’ abilities  to take precedence in the play, while transitions between scenes and  settings are smoothly done with a creative use of projections against  the backdrop of the stage. Even the costumes share the same simple design  and monochromatic colour scheme as the set, with just occasional splashes  of red hinting at blood links, and blood let.

With Blood  Brothers, David Kramer has added yet another heartfelt story to his  long list of impressive works.  There are, inevitably, echoes of  his hits District Six and Kat and the Kings , not least as he clearly  had many of those cast members lining up to work with him again.   No doubt they, like us,  understood that the combination of Willy  Russell and David Kramer was bound to be a sure fire hit.

Lauren Vogt

Blood Brothers took place at Theatre on the Bay and runs until 20 October 2013.

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