REVIEW: Blood Brothers

Matt Henderson’s Mickey Johnstone, left, becomes ‘blood brothers’ with Matt Glover’s Edward Lyons. Supplied photo.

Tauranga musical theatre lovers are in for a treat.

Following on from successful local productions of Rock of Ages and Mary Poppins in 2017 comes a new company performing a crowd favourite.

Stage Right Trust's inaugural show is Blood Brothers, a ‘Liverpudlian folk opera about a pair of twins separated at birth and brought up in completely different environments', as the programme so aptly describes it.

Directed by Toni Henderson, the musical is set principally in the 1960s and 1970s, and follows Mrs Johnstone (Petrina Thomas Chisolm) who falls pregnant unexpectedly with twins. Abandoned by her husband, she strikes a deal with her childless employer Mrs Lyons (Kaitlin Spedding) to give up one of the twins at birth, to be raised as a member of the Lyons household.

These twin boys – Mickey Johnstone (Matt Henderson) and Edward Lyons (Matt Glover) – later meet and become friends. Discovering they share the exact same birthday, they agree to become ‘blood brothers'. Despite the efforts of their respective mothers, their friendship endures, until the play comes full-circle and reaches the violent conclusion hinted at in the opening scene.

This production is well-polished. All of the principal actors are utterly believable in their roles, while the supporting cast jump in and out of different parts and costumes with aplomb. The live band that provides the music must also be commended – they're so good it sounds like a studio album.

Petrina Thomas Chisolm brings a quiet stoicism to the role of Mrs Johnstone, who wrestles with her decision throughout the play. Her voice is beautiful, flawless – makes me wish I'd seen her in last year's Tauranga Musical Theatre production of Mamma Mia!.

The standouts of the show are the twins themselves. The two Matts come on stage first as nearly eight-year-olds, and thanks to some phenomenal acting (honed, I suspect, by excellent direction) we never for one moment doubt these boys are children. It's a remarkable spell to cast, particularly as they spend most of the musical younger than 18. But we believe we're watching a couple of kids, and it makes for some brilliant, innocent humour (and, sometimes, not so innocent).

The play's narrator, Chris Traill, almost steals the show with a powerful singing voice that can only be admired or envied. He's the constant link as the story unfolds, acting as a sort of moral conscience at times to certain characters. It works well, and makes many of the set changes seamless.

Speaking of the set: it's very professional. I believe it was made from scratch for the production. If so, it's inspired, with houses opening up so we can peek inside and watch the action unfold. And it all takes place, not in the Addison Theatre, but the X Space (the large room to the left as you enter the Baycourt foyer), which is a fantastic change. There's no reason why more shows can't be produced there, and the smaller venue gives a uniquely intimate feel to this musical.

On another note, it's great to see more amateur theatre happening in this town, particularly from fresh companies with no fixed abode. This is commonplace in other cities; in Hamilton, for example, I have seen productions by companies such as Carving in Ice and Apocalypse Lounge that are not based in a theatre, but hire out a space that suits their needs. A similar model can certainly be sustained in this city, which I believe is hungry for the arts, and for the creative variety niche companies can provide.

To conclude: it's bloody good, brother. Catch it at Baycourt's X Space from Tuesday to Saturday, this week only.


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