Blood Brothers *** St Bride's Centre IF you ever heard the tale of the Johnston twins as it is sung in the musical version of Willy Russell's story, then Random Act's revisiting of his original play will provide a revelation.
And if you never heard their story, then it will take you right into the dark heart of a Liverpool torn by class divide, where Mrs Johnston is distraught to discover that her eighth child will, in fact, be twins.
With her husband run off with a younger girl who looks like Marilyn Monroe, the care home beckoning her unruly tribe and the tradesmen wanting paid, she has no option but to give one of the boys away.
So it is, that the two boys are parted at birth – Mickey to live with his natural mum in a squalid council house, while up by the park in the big house where Mrs Johnston once had a cleaning job, Edward is brought up by Mrs Lyons as her own son.
Performed in a square playing area, with no staging and the audience pressing in hard on the performers, there is a real immediacy to this production as it slides from Mrs Lyons manipulation of Mrs Johnston to giving up her son to the twins' tragic demise.
There's no set, only essential props and the most naturalistic of costumes. This forces the strong ensemble cast to focus on their characters – while liberating them to move around the stage so they can engage with all of the audience, not just those on one side.
Norma Kinnear is excellent as Mrs Johnston, moving smoothly from young mother, aged far beyond her years, to the wiser woman who succeeds in moving her family out into the country. She has the accent down perfectly, and works comfortably off the narrator, John Ward, as they drive the story on.
Lesley Ward seems a little too distracted, at first, as Mrs Lyons. But as events unfold and paranoia sets in towards Mrs Johnston and Mickey – who she forbids her Edward to play with – then this aspect of her character becomes a lot more coherent. As does her stipulation that neither boy shall know they have a twin brother.
In the roles of the twins, Jonathan McGarrity is excellent as Mickey. His boyish exuberance as a seven-year-old feels true and continues into teenage-hood as he hangs out with Edward and their best friend Linda, while the crushing disappointment of grown-up life is portrayed with real honesty.
Edward, by contrast, is not quite as showy a role to play, although Kenneth Pinkerton brings some nicely subtle touches to the his performance. Mairi Beaver finds a strong, true and coherent voice for Linda, finding comedy and tragedy where it is needed.
Director John Naples-Campbell has created a strong and often moving production which makes a virtue of its simplicity. It contains moments of real theatrical class as it moves towards an ending which works much better than in the subsequent musical.
Run ends tomorrow