Friday, August 22, 2008

Blood Brothers

Sometimes, if you ignore something for long enough, it goes away. Not so Blood Brothers. For 20 years, it's been pulling them in at the Phoenix and yesterday my curiosity finally got the better of me on the grounds that there can't be much wrong with a show of such longevity that its only rivals are those other creaking dinosaurs venerable antiques, Phantom and Les Miserables.

I'd almost forgotten what it was that made me give it a miss in the first place and then studiously avoid it ever since. Well it's obvious really - it reeks of Liverpule and all the bleeding-heart stereotypes such as BoJo was forcibly requested to apologise for (with his fingers crossed). Of course its author, Willy Russell, was born on Merseyside so it's OK for him to perpetuate the same thing.

Without changing much of the plot or hardly a word of dialogue, it could have told the story of twin brothers separated at birth... one, Eddie, brought up by a hardworking aspirational couple. The other, Mickey, by a feckless single mother of 7. Despite their social differences, they would share a deep friendship until successful Eddie's loyalty is bitterly repaid by being shot by loser Mickey, whose life of criminality is a culmination of rejecting all opportunities to better himself.

Instead, it's a hard-luck tale of Scouse victimhood. Mickey and his natural family are lovable salt of the earth Scallies. Outsourced Eddie and his folks, whose money comes from exploiting the workers (where else?), are risibly effete toffs. When Thatcher's de-industrialisation throws Mickey out of work, his only recourse is to crime and when he shoots his best friend and unbeknown twin Eddie it's because the capitalist system has driven him mad with rage against its inherent unfairness.

Make of it what you will, it does have the sense of being somewhat of an anachronism. But when written, in the 80s when even Derek Hatton was a credible political force, its message would have been absolutely de rigeur. It hangs together well though, keeps the drama moving along and includes enough good songs to just about keep your mind off the flaws in the narrative.

I'm glad I saw it with Lyn Paul playing Mrs. Johnstone. She's come a long way since being the heart-meltingly gorgeous lead singer for the 'English Abba' - the New Seekers. Still got the presence, though, and most crucially in this role, the crystal clear vocals with that effortlessly rich and sexy vibrato taking her wherever she wants the tune to go. Without her, I think I'd have been on the early train home.

Time to retire it.