07
Aug
13

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

Harvest Rain Theatre Company & QPAC

QPAC – Cremorne Theatre

1-17th of August 2013

 

Reviewed by Guy Frawley

 

 

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With the opening of Harvest Rain’s new show Blood Brothers on Saturday night at the Cremorne theatre, Tim O’Connor has finally been able to bring to fruition a plan he hatched a decade ago. Unable to make the stars align over the past 10 years, it took one very special star, Amanda Muggleton, to provide O’Connor with his ideal Mrs Johnstone and to set the wheels in motion that would eventually lead to his impressive staging of this long-running musical.

 

Whilst I saw a fair amount of early-to-mid-2000s Harvest Rain on a mixture of school and family trips to the theatre, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a show by this company. And how the times have changed! I remembered a local theatre company, with a foundation of wholesome, family friendly material doing their best to add a pro to the space before their amateur status. What the creative team and cast presented on Saturday night however, was a show as professional and impressive as I could have hoped for. Honestly the only negative commentary I could come up with is entirely to do with the sound system and being QPAC, that’s hardly a surprise.

 

Honestly though, isn’t that what tech runs and previews are for? With the amount of cash the companies outlay to rent the space SURELY they deserve a higher quality and more consistent level of sound quality?! In our state’s premier cultural precinct?! /rant

 

 

The script is a Willy Russell creation (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine) and offers equal amounts of humour, pathos and social commentary. The music is enjoyable and memorable but the real reason you should see this show is for the assembled talent you’ll have the chance to witness from your seat.

 

O’Connor himself has done a beautiful job in directing and producing this show, but it’s his ability to draw together a phenomenal creative team and cast that makes Blood Brothers a show not to be missed.

 

Over the course of its two hour run time Blood Brothers transports us through a roughly 25 year period and whilst this is key to the storytelling, it also makes for a very hard show to cast and perform. I’m generally not a big fan of adults playing small children. So often the performance is simply a crude caricature or over-acted stereotype. But the eponymous “blood brothers”, Zack Anthony Curran and Shaun Kohlman, give us a spectacular performance. As Curran bounced around the stage as a 7-nearly-8 year old it was an initially disconcerting experience. He nailed every facial expression, every gesture, every slouch and every hop, skip and jump of a cheeky kid. In Curran and Kohlman, O’Connor has found actors that not only have beautiful chemistry but that are also such great character actors that their transformation throughout the show is an amazing thing to watch. Without giving away too much of the plot, for me the most emotionally wrenching moment of the entire show came not in the finale, but during a heartbreaking scene before Christmas.

 

Josh Te Paa, gave a commanding performance in the role of the narrator, injecting into the character a unique sense of personality and purpose often lost in the standard idea of a narrator. Julie Cotterell couldn’t have been more perfectly cast as Mrs Lyons and plays out the role with the most fabulous sense of patrician repression and paranoid neurosis. I credit Stacey de Waard in the role of Linda as the second most important reason as to why I found Curran and Kohlman such believable characters. She was able to create the perfect counter to the boy’s own awkwardness as they grew. Her accent was absolutely spot on throughout the entire show and she radiated a joyful confidence.

 

Performing a show in Brisbane, Australia that’s set in Liverpool, England is bound to create a challenging complication with accents, and by and large the cast did an impressive job. Distractingly several performers seemed to struggle towards the end but largely it all sounded pretty authentic, special mention to Te Paa who stood out once again. The vocal direction in general is a highlight of this show. Sophie Woodward’s direction in this area is on best display during the group musical numbers where each line is delivered with such clarity that I could understand every word.

 

The set and costume design by Josh McIntosh provides O’Connor with a beautifully realised world to inhabit. Simple enough to not appear distracting but designed with such smart details so as to allow it to burst with life. In one scene where all the nooks and crannies are filled with the ensemble the stage seems to almost seethe and roil.

 

Amanda Muggleton was worth the 10-year wait that it took O’Connor to find his perfect Mrs Johnstone. Even with all of the amazing talent in this show, it’s her performance that holds it all together and imbues Blood Brothers with so much of it’s heart. The character could easily appear a cartoonish impression of a hopeless, financially irresponsible, single mother but Muggleton gives the role such a multi-faceted portrayal, filled with naivety and vulnerability.

 

Blood Brothers plays for another week and a half and closes on the 17th of August. This is a really impressive attempt made by Harvest Rain and through a real collaboration of talent the entire cast and crew pull off a great show. With this as the level of quality theatre they’re turning out I’ll be very interested in hearing later in the year what the company has planned for 2014.

 

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