On the 14TH June 2012, we watched Blood Brothers, by Willy Russell, at the Phoenix Theatre. The play ‘Blood Brothers’ is set in 1980s Britain; it deals with numerous themes such as fate, the class system, insanity, superstition and division. The genres of the play are drama, tragedy & comedy-to an extent. Something I found particularly interesting was how the genre of comedy became less and less apparent as the play went on, whereas the genre of tragedy- became more and more apparent as the play went on-the opposite.
The play was a musical. I didn’t have any expectations of the play prior to watching it, as I believe art and especially performance art revolves around an experience, a new experience, that one must freely allow to affect them in whatever way it will, and therefore its essential to not ‘expect’ anything. However, I suppose there were things I instantly imagined would happen in the play, with the title being ‘Blood Brothers’; I imagined it would be very violent.
The narrator’s role was tremendously significant, he was an interventionist narrator, his role was to be the voice of superstition, the force who injected the sense of superstition into the characters spirits; he was responsible for the sense of superstition-which was perceptible throughout the play, and for it being so significant and strong. The narrator did not have a set location on the set-like most narrators would, he always-surprisingly appeared in random spaces on the set, at the beginning of the play he stood in the centre of the stage, and at other points he appeared in other spaces.
He often appeared on the centre balcony, above all the other characters and at several different spaces on the stage. This was highly effective as it caused the narrator to be perceived as a higher force-a force with an upper hand, someone spiritual-like a voice of conscience. It also made him seem tremendously powerful. He was invisible to all the characters, yet they were visible to him. This really enforced and strengthened the theme of superstition.
The narrator spoke in a very bold voice, with a lot of texture- so much that it filled the auditorium; this was effective as it caused everything he said to be perceived by us as significant and to stick in our minds, which was essential as we could then apply all he said to the other parts of the play; every part of the play was connected to a superstitious message of the narrators. The narrators facial expression remained emotionless, throughput he entire play-even when he sang, this was part of the actors characterization in-becoming the intriguing figure of the play, who was the source of all superstition, who showed no concern or emotion toward the superstition and its effects. The narrators costume remained the same throughout the play, I believe this was significant as nothing about him changed throughout the play: the way he moved, his facial expression, his tone of voice; all these things remained the same throughout he play. Before the play began, the narrator undid a button on his blazer and when the play ended he buttoned it back, he closed the blazer.
This was significant as it symbolized the beginning and the end of the story and gave it a feeling of completion. The narrator opened his blazer in a calm manner and closed it in a calm manner; this-to me, was absolutely ironic owing to the fact that so many tragic events were to occur after he calmly unbuttoned his blazer and so many tragic event had just occurred before he calmly closed his blazer-one of those events being the death of the Johnston twins. The opening and closing of the blazer marked the opening and closing of the play. Miss Johnston was played incredibly well.
The actress’s characterisation and overall portrayal of Miss Johnston was great. Her commitment to portraying Miss Johnston-throughout the play, was astounding and apparent, through her adaptation of her accent. Miss Johnston’s struggle and strain were perceived through her adaptation of voice. Through this adaptation, she effortlessly expressed pain, stress, misery and also joy & happiness. Her adaptation of voice is ensuingly, hugely responsible for her overall characterisation of Miss Johnston being so phenomenal. Through this characterisation, Miss Johnston made several of the themes more understandable.
An example of when the actress’s’ characterization was particularly effective was towards the end, during the scene of Mickey & Edwards death, when she revealed to them, they were brothers. When she did this, her eyes welled up with tears, her voice trembled and her body convulsed; my eyes were fixed on her. I believed her, so much that I began to feel great sympathy for her. She was able to portray an emotion, and cause it to the same emotion, to be evoked by the audience. Mrs Lyons was played exceptionally well; she helped me to understand several themes of the play-primarily class.
Mrs Lyons was of a higher class, than Miss Johnston and this came through, through her movement-the manner in which, she manoeuvred around the stage. Mrs Lyons-unlike Miss Johnston would always walk with her head held high in the air and her shoulders back; her posture was always sustained and sharp, apart from when she began to derail mentally. Very often Mrs Lyons, would be alongside Miss Johnston-who was of a working class background, and through the actress’ characterization, I was able to see a contrast between the two women.
This helped me to understand the theme of class. When Mrs Lyons began to derail mentally, it was very clear to the audience because of her movement and facial expression. During one scene, where her insanity had reached its zenith, her body movement became rapid and irrational, and her facial expressions expressed confusion, panic and worry. This was effective as we were able to depict so much, without her having to say anything. The actress’s portrayal of Mrs Lyons helped me to understand the theme of insanity.
During the scene, whereby Mrs Lyons & Mr Lyons fought verbally, proxemics was effective; Mr & Mrs Lyons stood close together at the beginning of the scene and gradually grew further apart. Proxemics was effective here, as it symbolised the effect Mrs Lyons’ insanity had on her marriage. Mickey wore an old-looking denim jacket, jeans and dirty trainers and his hair was scruffy; he often appeared in scenes alongside Eddie, whose hair was always neatly combed, wore polished shoes, a sweater vest, a clean white shirt and trousers. Each boys costume represented his social class and lifestyle.
Mickey and Edward being alongside each other often in the play, made the class contrast between them more apparent. The set was split into two, the left side of the stage was where Mickey’s house was located and represented his neighbourhood and the right side of the stage was where, Edwards house was locate and represented his neighbourhood. The right side of the stage was definitely brighter and more decorated, than the left. There were flowers on the right side of the stage and the houses were beautifully painted, there were also high balconies.
This was the complete opposite of the left side of the stage, where the houses were unpainted; there were no flowers or decorations and there was a complete dearth of colour. The contrast was conspicuous and enforced the themes of class and division. At the beginning of the play, a screen which displayed clouds was apparent; before the play properly began, it was lifted up. The image of clouds, along with the eerie music which played, created a dream-like atmosphere, the lights were very dim. This was bsolutely effective as it completed the atmosphere, as the audience were made to feel as though they were part of the play, part of the setting as though they too were in the darkness, it was as if we were in a bedroom at night, the dim lights completely coincided with the music and the visual display of clouds and accomplished the dream-like atmosphere. During the scene, whereby Mrs Lyons attempts to kill Miss Johnston, the lights were tremendously effective. As Mrs Lyons grabbed the knife from the rack, a red light rapidly flashed, this symbolised danger and Mrs Lyons’ insanity having reached its zenith, it also marked the moment.
It drew us-the audience, further into the play. The music of the play enhanced the production greatly. Each song had a particular purpose. The song, ‘The Devil’s Got Your Number’, was performed by the narrator several times during the play, its purpose was to enforce and enhance-strongly, the themes of superstition and fate and did exactly that. Every time the narrator sang it, the themes and ideas of superstition were reinforced and began to feel more significant. It also affected the audience as whenever it was performed, it evoked a feeling of unease, discomfort and tension because of its dark and heavy sound.
Action before narration in Blood brothers was brilliant, as the narrator delivered the action, in a vague and peculiar way, through a speech-which I perceived as poetry; it caused me to be intrigued and drawn in and then to mentally construct links as the play progressed. A split scene occurred in the play during a scene in whereby Edward and Mickey were both in class as teenagers; it was interesting as both boys were practically doing the same thing, but in different environments and conditions. Edward would be in class, in a conflict with his teacher and then it would go to a split scene and we’d see Mickey in conflict with his teacher.
The stage was split in half, so the two classes were be in juxtaposition; this made the contrast very apparent and enforced the theme of division. One moment that stood out to me was the moment where Mrs Lyons attempted to stab Miss Johnston, as this moment was marked in several ways: 1) through the use of a red flashing light 2) A heart beat sound which increased in tempo, as Mrs Lyons got closer with the knife 3) By moving in slow motion. All of these were apparent as Mrs Lyons attempted to stab Miss Johnston; they all contributed to the creation of tension and an atmosphere of danger and intensity.
All of these things explain why the moment stood out and was so effective. The tension and the atmosphere created in this moment captivated me in a way, I can only describe as transcendent. My response to the play is one of admiration and praise, the play was not only wonderfully entertaining, but also very insightful towards its themes. The play created a dialogue in my mind about issues such as social division, fate and insanity, which is incredible because that is exactly what art is supposed to do: to entertain/shock and also to make a statement and create dialogue.