‘Blood Brothers’ is very nearly perfect musical theatre

‘Blood Brothers’ is very nearly perfect musical theatre

DIRECTOR: David Kramer
CAST: Bianca Le Grange, Elton Landrew, Ephraim Gordon, Dean Ballie, Andrea Frankson, Buhle Ngaba, Marlo Minnaar, Carlo Daniels
VENUE: Theatre On The Bay until October 20
REVIEW: Peter Tromp

We obsessive culture consumers are always on the lookout for the perfect hit – that piece of art that is untouchable; that you couldn’t, nor wouldn’t want to take anything from. Few such artefacts actually exist, but we nonetheless compile our lists and blog (mostly to no one) about these things. So it is therefore majorly frustrating when you come across something that flirts with perfection, but then falls just short of that marker.

‘Blood Bothers’ very nearly achieves the feat of being as close to perfect as any musical play (even though it’s billed as a musical, I wouldn’t exactly call it that) I have seen. Not since the Fred Abrahamse directed ‘Assassins’, which showed at the now defunct New Space Theatre, have I seen a musical show that I connected with in such a manner. Unfortunately, it all comes a bit unscrewed towards the end. Since I haven’t seen the original Willy Russell show that David Kramer adapted and localised, I’m not sure who, or what is to blame for the way the whole shebang becomes unstuck in its final 10 minutes or so. Kramer establishes a wonderful and delicate rhythm right from the off, really getting one to become invested in these characters, and he maintains it throughout the play, but when the melodrama really kicks in (and I won’t spoil anything for anyone) it feels as if his efforts and that of his winning cast were almost for naught.

Russell, as he proved with ‘Shirley Valentine’ and ‘Educating Rita’, trades in a sort of workaday melodrama, but with transcendent characters that become almost indelibly etched in one’s memory. (Who can ever forget a character like Shirley Valentine?) I have always loved how the writer infused his working class characters with so much dignity, and ‘Blood Brothers’, which is as much a class struggle as it is a classic tale of family tragedy and betrayal, again similarly shows great empathy towards people for whom making ends meet is a constant battle. Kramer has done a great job of localising the text and making the characters’ struggles feel authentically Capetonian – you probably wouldn’t have known that this was an adaptation of an international play if it wasn’t announced in the poster.
At some point though, the whole production becomes held hostage by the plot needing to resolve itself. Things speed up in a way that doesn’t quite gel with the pace established in the first three quarters, and ultimately I left feeling a bit empty. But hey, as I’m typing this, I’m still clinging fondly to my memories of the glorious first 100 minutes or so.

The songs are quite memorable, but it is actually the dramatic parts of ‘Blood Brothers’, the parts that make it feel more like a play than a song and dance affair, that are its most successful, and most affecting. To make the drama resonate, Kramer has done some terrific casting. Bianca Legrange is warm and engaging presence as the mother (until she’s allowed to wig out on us in full ‘Idols’ mode in the bats**t cray final moments). My absolute favourites though are the tragic twins Mickey and Edward, played by Ephraim Gordon and Dean Ballie respectively. The former especially is virtually faultless as the twin for whom fate dealt a harsh hand.

Perhaps the biggest revelation of ‘Blood Brothers’ is the liberation of David Kramer. This is first production from the iconic musician and theatre maker in which it didn’t feel as if the spectre of Taliep Petersen, his creative partner that was sadly murdered a few years ago, hanged over him. It has appeared at times as if Kramer was unsure of how to carve out a unique new creative identity for himself since he’s had to go at it alone, but here he feels rejuvenated again. Perhaps it is the fact that he didn’t have to come up with a unique story all on his own that has proven to be the deciding factor. Whatever the case, ‘Blood Brothers’ for the most part is a great return to form.

* Book at Computicket.