Sitting in my seat before the curtain came up, I was feeling a little apprehensive. Musicals were something I enjoyed as a child, but were increasingly beginning to irritate me as the years went by. Having not heard of this famous production before, I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about.
This story follows the lives of twin brothers raised by different mothers, one biological, and one desperate for a child. Willy Russell avoids narrowly focusing on the theme of separation and guilt, broadening the story’s appeal by looking at class division: Eddy, the rich, well-educated and reserved boy is familiar with things such as a dictionary, whereas Mickey, the cheeky, uneducated brother uses profanities and has bad habits. Despite these obvious caricatures, the boys remain likeable, with credit given to the actors Sean Jones and Simon Willmont.
The lives of the brothers constantly intertwine, though eventually taking strikingly different paths – a comment on the constrains of class structure perhaps. Indeed, the continuing success of this production is perhaps reliant on the prevalence of class consciousness as an issue, something I am sure Russell was aware of.
The back bone of this performance was the outstanding cast, with particular acclaim to the leads – Lyn Paul, Sean Jones, Simon Willmont and Anna Sambrooks – who together made it engaging and energetic. The music was impressive too; the sound vibrant, the voices powerful, and the range of songs managed a good balance between sing-song crowd pleasers and the more serious numbers.
The one criticism of this water-tight performance would be of the on-stage narrator, whose role was to warn characters that their actions may have negative consequences. However, his often High School Musical-esque performance style distracted me. His appearances were comical, not foreboding, turning the play at times into a quasi pantomime, with lines such as “the devils right behind ya!”.
Towards the end, my friend turned to me and said, “I swear this is a Disney song”, which I felt summarised the performance well. On the surface fun and enjoyable, but when you scratched away a little, some interesting issues buried underneath. If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth a see.