While there may be few surprises in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, thanks to the fine cast assembled for the Arts Club production currently playing at its Granville Island Stage, any predictability takes backseat to their emotionally charged performances.
Barely able to raise her children on the meager wages she earns as a cleaning lady, Mrs Johnston (Terra C MacLeod) soon discovers that she is pregnant again, this time with twins. Realizing the impossibility of two more mouths to feed, she agrees to give one of the twins over to Mrs Lyons (Meghan Gardiner), the barren and wealthy woman for whom she cleans. As the twins, Mickey Johnstone (Shane Snow) and Eddie Lyons (Adam Charles), grow-up, the two families’ paths continue to cross and a fateful friendship develops between the brothers even though they now live on opposite sides of the tracks.
Despite its central focus on the relationship between the two separated boys, it is MacLeod as the mother who gives up her flesh-and-blood who provides the biggest emotional punch of the night. From her opening number “Marilyn Monroe”, which quickly provides some back story as to where she is now to her final cry of lament in “Tell Me It’s Not True”, MacLeod conveys a believable combination of the weariness of her hard life and a mother’s steadfast love and determination.
As the twins, Snow and Charles literally grow up before our eyes, bringing a wonderful playfulness as their younger selves. The connection the two make is heartfelt and makes the beautifully restrained scene as they say goodbye in act one even more powerful and tearful. The pair are equally believeable as they mature and the class divide seems even greater when viewed through their adult eyes.
John Mann provides solid support as the Narrator, easily attacking the rock-themed songs, and Lauren Bowler, as the third wheel in the relationship with Mickey and Eddie, brings a wonderful combination of innocence and worldliness that one imagines can happen to those that are forced to grow up too quickly. Meghan Gardiner brings a balance of desperation and paranoia to Mrs Lyons who is seemingly on the verge of breaking at any moment and Ashley O’Connell as Mickey’s angry older brother Sammy is suitably bold and brash.
The ensemble here is equally impressive, playing the miscellany children and adults of the story. A highlight is the delightful act one “Kid’s Game” which is both inventive and fun, although like some of Russell’s story here does little to drive the narrative. It is great to see co-directors Bob Frazer and Sara-Jeanne Hosie casting some emerging new talent as part of this ensemble.
Ted Roberts’ abandoned factory set is one of the best uses of the Granville Island Stage I can remember, although the decision to provide a uniformly drab look, with no distinction between the posh world of the Lyons household and squalid conditions of the Johnstone’s, did seem at odds with Russell’s exploration of class.
So, did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins? Despite its unsurprising story, this terrific cast is ready to tell you.
Music, book and lyrics by Willy Russell. Directed by Bob Frazer and Sara-Jeanne Hosie. An Arts Club Theatre Company presentation. On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through December 31, 2011. Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.