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Melodrama ill-served my musical format - but still worth seeing!

Review: David Munro

BLOOD Brothers falls between two stools; social commentary and outright melodrama, and does not sit happily on either.

As one would expect of Willy Russell, the dialogue and characterizations are good, but the plot is driven forward by a series of coincidences which leaving you gasping at the
author's audacity.

Originally, a one-hour play written for a Liverpool theatre group, the conversion into a musical is only partially successful and, to me, what works as a play, does not always translate well to the musical stage.

If melodrama is wanted, treat it as such (to wit Sweeny Todd), but a social conscience seems unreal when grafted on, which Russell attempts to do in Blood Brothers.

As everyone knows by now, the plot is lifted from the old Melodrama, the Corsican Brothers, and deals with twins, separated at birth, who meet by chance, become friendly and then fall out over a girl, and end up by killing each other.

The performances, at least, give, to paraphrase W.S. Gilbert, verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Linda Nolan, as mother to the bloody brothers, is a worthy successor to a role played in the past by a line of dramatic divas, which include Barbara Dickson (the originator of the past), Vikki Carr, in the first revival, and the late Stephanie Lawrence, who played it triumphantly, in New York, and opened the current production at The Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road.

Sean Jones and Drew Ashton achieve in making the relationship between the eponymous brothers touching and convincing, emphasizing the tragedy of their deaths.

Debbie Eden makes a charming transition from a gawky schoolgirl to tormented adult; while in the role of adoptive mother to one of the brothers, Karen Barnes successfully fleshes out an under-written and thankless part.

Keith Burns gives the narrator an Irish charm, while the rest of the characters - neigbours, friends, policeman and teacher and general Greek chorus - fit in to the plot and it would be invidious to single any one of them out from an excellent supporting cast, save to say that they, with the principals, do their producer and co-director, Bill Kenwright, proud, as do Andy Walmsleys's economical but effective settings.

All in all (plot aside) a most satisfying evening's entertainment which should not be missed - after all, you are getting a West End Show at Wimbledon, and for reasonably priced tickets - what could be better than that?

Blood Brothers: Written and composed by Willy Russell; Directed by Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright; Designed by Andy Walmsley; Lighting, Nick Ritchins; Sound, Ben Harrison; Musical Director, Richard Beadle.
CAST: Linda Nolan; Keith Burns; Sean Jones; Drew Ashton; Karen Barnes; Debbie Eden; Michael Southern; Tim Churchill; Nicholas Charters; Treacy Spencer; Chris Clarkson; Michael Everest; Lisa Roberts; Owen Oldroyd.
Produced by Bill Kenwright. by arrangement with Bob Swash.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings: Mon Feb 23-Sat 28, 2004 7.30pm
Matinees Thurs.& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 1827.

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