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