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SPOT ON casting and an extremely high production value makes of the musical Blood Brothers an entertaining evening indeed.
Director David Kramer has adapted Willy Russell’s musical to a 1960s District Six setting and gives it a good old Cape Flats spin with lots of very local Afrikaans slang. The clever retorts fly fast and the puns even faster.
Bianca le Grange is comfortable as the practical but desperately poor mother, Mrs Johnstone, who has to live with the impossible choice of giving up one of her children to be raised by someone else, simply because of economics.
Dean Balie and Ephraim Gordon don’t look at all alike, but there’s an obvious empathy between the two which helps to persuade you they are the twins, separated at birth and raised by two very different mothers.
Lynelle Kenned is a suitably unhinged Mrs Lyons – she has all the trappings of money and power, but cannot have a child – while Alistair Izobel makes a great sleazy, scary gangster narrator.
Transposing the action to the Fugard Theatre has opened up the stage to so many more possibilities than the Theatre on the Bay could offer. The musical features an inordinate number of scene changes, but these are facilitated by Dennis Hutchinson’s excellent lighting and Paul and Matthew Kalil’s nifty projection designs which create the various houses and interior scenes necessary for the plot to move along.
The scenes move fast, taking us from the mothers making the pact never to tell anyone they have separated the twins, through the boys becoming fast friends as children, into their early adulthood.
The audience on opening night loved it, responding with a standing ovation, but an ovation which was over very, very quickly – before the actors even walked away from taking their bows.
Most audiences don’t like having to grapple too much with weighty issues and major existential angst. If you are paying to be entertained, that is what you want and that is definitely what you will get here.
This story is very slight and doesn’t deal meaningfully with any issues, in some ways it is quite twee – despite the setting of District Six. While the original idea of exploring what exactly led to the tragic deaths of the twins – was it just superstition, or was there something to nature vs nurture when it came to raising essentially the same person, but under very different circumstances? – is hinted at, nothing is really explored and anyway, the ideas jar with the setting.
Setting a play amid coloureds in the time of forced removals means exploring identity and your relationship to the place you call home simply because of what was happening at the time, but that is not what you get here.
What you get is entertainment of a rigourously high technical standard, just not exactly substantial, or particularly meaningful on the thematic side.