Belmont High School – Peforming Arts Centre
Theatre of the Damned
Until 26 August
Throughout history, twin siblings have been the subject of classic tales of folklore and mythology from the Gemini twins to the tale of Romulus and Remus and with many of these stories have come many poetic theories and superstitions like feeling each other’s pain or telepathy between each other. The musical that is Blood Brothers sought inspiration from many of these documented fables and took them to a whole new level when it first debuted on the West End exactly forty years ago, soon becoming one of the most beloved and longest-running musicals in West End history with its raw, hard hitting story, drama and tragedy. When it came to Theatre Of The Damned’s retelling, the company took the time to honour the original production that stood the test of time all the while making the show their very own by adapting it for the modern audience and despite it not being the easiest of tasks, the company pulled through once again and delivered Willy Russell’s masterpiece in the most gorey and glorious of fashions for the masses.
After three consecutive turns onstage with Theatre Of The Damned, David Postill took the wheel as Blood Brothers’ director and even after a few years absence from the coveted director’s chair, he demonstrated to the audience that he’s still got it in him to make theatrical magic happen in a return that was prominent and poetic. Throughout the production’s run time, Postill managed to achieve many key elements required to adapt Blood Brothers effectively for the twenty-first century audience in his creative vision; from allowing all his performers to dig deep into their psyche in order to rediscover the innocence of childhood and the fear many have raising a child in a cruel world to finding the human element in characters that ten years ago would have been considered as downright despicable and highlighted all the themes that play a part in the Johnstone twins story so efficiently against the backdrop of both sides of the English class divide. Jason Harrison worked tirelessly and triumphantly behind the baton as the musical director and his trusted band utilised their creative talents to such an extent where they could have easily recited the folklore inspired narrative by themselves at times, especially with orchestrations that flawlessly set the scene through sweet soothing symphonies and tense thought-provoking tunes and vocal direction that showcased the best of each voice in an assembly similar to a church choir. Heavily choreographed dance routines were nowhere to be seen in the spectacle but Alicia Miller still kept the audience on their toes as the movement director, mainly because of her valiant and vibrant methods to ensure that every move had meaning whether the characters were fighting, romancing, grieving or playing and established purpose for each character’s motives no matter how misguided by influencing the cast to trust their instincts and stand their ground as each scene powerfully progressed their respective arcs beyond the point of no return.
With only ten performers forming the cast of the production, the company needed to find a disciplined enough group of actors/actresses to tackle the serious subject matter in a mature light while also capturing the immaturity and inexperience of youth as each character grew up right before our eyes for better or for worse. Theatre Of The Damned found these creative individuals after a long search and the wait certainly paid off for everyone who had a hand in bringing the show to life and those who were watching in the stands. Before I go into detail about the work of the lead performances, as is custom now, I wish to highlight the work of the two ladies who formed the small but stunning ensemble, Rosie Whelan and Genma Eastwood. Both of whom portrayed multiple characters throughout the night and put their skills to the test just as much as the leads to find the balance between youth and adulthood and justify each action of their characters despite the moral cost, breaking down the barriers between lead and ensemble with ease and elation.
On to the leads, we start with the man known simply as the narrator of the story, Matthew Tripodi, who had his work cut out for him not only remembering every ounce of detail when reciting the cautionary Johnstone Brothers tale so nothing would be missed but also inserting himself into the narrative on multiple occasions to portray various characters who played a part in shaping key aspects of the brothers’ cut short lives. Tripodi often took charge of his scenes without hesitation, creating an environment of control and command over the crowd in a performance that was hypnotising and hellish in the best ways possible as if the devil he often serenaded about had taken over our minds and had us wrapped around his finger. Early on in the story, the narrator mentions that one of the blood brothers was raised by a monster, but no trace of one was found in Tracey McKeague’s portrayal of Mrs. Lyons, the woman who raised Eddie, but if you ask me this was for the best. For her unsettling and unbreakable performance of an upper middle class woman driven into disturbia through her desperation to keep her son’s real maternity a secret in an ensuing class war, McKeague allowed the audience to feel empathy for her character as her sanity paid the ultimate price for the twins’ separation by showcasing that Mrs. Lyons was not a villain but a human being who was just frantically lost. One of the biggest standouts of the night was the performance given by Megan Bearman and her portrayal of Linda, the young woman torn between the two brothers who eventually struggles to keep the peace at home with the clinically depressed brother she falls for and in public with the brother who falls for her. We the audience watched helplessly as Bearman transformed from the fun loving rebel who grows up alongside the titular siblings to a wife crippled into submission at the mercy of a pair torn apart, resulting in a captivating and courageous performance that saw her as a pillar of strength for the requited and unrequited loves of her life.
During the blood brothers time on earth, they each had one constant male presence to influence the path they walked upon; one had the criminally misguided older brother Sammy portrayed by Angus Fitzpatrick and the other had the devoted work driven adoptive father Mr. Lyons portrayed by Ash Chappel. They couldn’t be more different character wise but both Fitzpatrick and Chappel turned in performances that were formative and formidable and the plot would not have been the same without their inclusion and inspiration for their respective brothers and sons. Speaking of the brothers, we finally come to the Blood Brothers themselves, Eddie and Mickey, who were memorably and mystically portrayed by Seamus Kennedy and Jett Sansom respectively. At first, I was a bit disappointed to see two grown young adult men play the brothers during the scenes which saw their characters under the age of ten, but sure enough, Kennedy and Sansom transitioned from boys to men like it was nothing as their arc continued on from their innocent childhood days to their explorative teen years all up until their bitter, bloody end in the musical’s climax. Their different routes at the crossroads of life saw their innocence shattered by the fulfilling of their destined prophecy and no matter which way their characters turned, the two young actors clearly had an inseparable bond together that could not be parted and it enabled their performances to be as rich as they come.
The queen of Blood Brothers is in most cases the actress who plays the Johnstone twins’ mother Mrs. Johnstone who raised one, birthed both and loved them as a whole unconditionally and Theatre Of The Damned’s take was no exception as the crown was placed on the head of the great Samantha “Bam” Heskett. In her rewarding, remarkable and regarded portrayal of a heartbroken mother who did everything she could to raise the children she claimed in poverty and not get too attached to the child she gave away but never stopped loving and ended up losing both Eddie and Mickey in the process, the audience witnessed Heskett devote herself to both her role and her children so passionately with godlike strength, you could see undisputed mother’s pride glistening in her eyes. Each line she delivered poured out more emotion with each passing moment, never falling on deaf ears and her vocal prowess was reminiscent of lullabies used to sing bundles of joy softly, sweetly and soundly to sleep. In what may be one of her most heartfelt performances to date, Heskett established once again why she is considered a legend in Melbourne’s amateur circuit, how her dedication to her craft is one that cannot be matched and how she can influence many other actresses in our scene for generations.
Theatre Of The Damned pulled out all the stops with their milestone tenth musical production by presenting a faithful retelling of Blood Brothers that even the musical’s writer Willy Russell can be proud of. It was a show that got you thinking, hoping and grieving with everyone present on stage and its musical drama at its best and its safe to say that after this display, we can only expect great things from the company when next year’s theatre season commences. Special shoutout to David Postill and Tony and Elise Dahl for their behind the scenes work in the production and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with Blood Brothers for a stellar opening night. As always, if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, tell me it’s not true and snag some up while you can, support the company and local theatre. Congratulations Theatre Of The Damned for another great experience, keep your shoes off the table and chookas for the rest of your run.
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