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The Green Room

Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre

“Blood Brothers” makes its second visit to the Everyman in the middle of February. What I like about the show is that, although it deals with large themes, it’s small and simple. Most musicals are big, lavish affairs set on large stages with large casts and sweeping stories. “Blood Brothers” is intimate, domestic even, and it’s very English. Willy Russell’s show first opened in 1983 and finally closed in the West End at the end of last year after a twenty-four year run that saw its 10,000 performances entering the record books as the third longest running musical in London. “Blood Brothers” is very much the child of Willy Russell; he wrote the book, the lyrics and the music. And it has an interesting history.

It was first written and presented as a school play in 1982 in conjunction with the Merseyside Young People’s Theatre, or MYPT, which now operates as Fuse: New Theatre for Young People. It is based on the 1844 classic novel “The Corsican Brothers” by Alexandre Dumas, père. Russell then developed the show for a production at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983 which starred Barbara Dickson. Despite it being only a modest success it transferred to London’s West End opening on 11th April 1983 at the Lyric Theatre where it ran for six months. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and another Olivier for Dickson’s performance.

The show was then taken up by producer Bill Kenwright who, in 1987, sent it out for a year-long national tour. It then returned to the West End opening at the Albery Theatre in St. Martins Lane in July 1988. Over the years many of Britain’s best female singers have taken on the part of the mother, Mrs. Johnstone, including Kiki Dee, Angela Richards, Stephanie Lawrence, Clodagh Rodgers, Lyn Paul, Siobhan McCarthy, four of the Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen). Among the men who have appeared in the show are Carl Wayne (the original singer from hit sixties band The Move), Marti Pellow and David Soul.

In America the show had equal success. The Broadway production opened in April 1993 at the Music Box Theatre and ran for two years, staging 840 performances. Several of the British actors made their Broadway debuts, including Stephanie Lawrence, Con O’Neill as Mickey, Jan Graveson as Linda, Mark Michael Hutchinson as Eddie and Warwick Evans as the narrator. In order to boost box office sales, Bill Kenwright convinced Petula Clark to make her Broadway debut as Mrs. Johnstone, with David Cassidy and Shaun Cassidy as her sons. The casting of Cassidy brothers as the eponymous blood brothers generated much publicity at the time, although, in fact, David and Shaun are only half-brothers – plus, in reality, there is an eight year age difference between the ostensible “twins”. Petula Clark later starred in the 1994-5 American tour. She and the Cassidys also recorded the international cast album, with Willy Russell as the Narrator. Following Petula Clark’s portrayal, Mrs. Johnstone was played by other 1960s pop singers, Carole King and Helen Reddy.

The story of “Blood Brothers” explores the age-old theme of nature versus nurture. In Liverpool in 1960, Mrs Johnstone, a young mother in the slums, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children. She takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet. It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again - this time with twins! In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer which leads to the twins being separated at birth. They are brought up in different backgrounds, at different ends of the social spectrum. One finishes up as an important local politician while the other has never been able to drag himself up from the gutter. As luck, or fate, would have it they both fall for the same girl and that’s where the trouble starts on its long road to the inevitable, tearjerking, tragic ending. Bring your hankies.

Alan Ayckbourn has written more plays than most of us have had hot dinners. In fact, if you saw all of Ayckbourn’s plays, you probably wouldn’t have had much time for many hot dinners.

Ayckbourn has been the dominant force in popular British theatre for nearly five decades. It must be said that he peeked quite a long time ago and that some of his recent work has not had the quality or appeal as many of his previous seventy-five plays.

Nevertheless, even at 74-years-old Alan Ayckbourn is still going strong and his latest piece, “Surprises” opens on 26 February.

This is hot from the stage of Ayckbourn’s own theatre, The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and is directed by the author himself.

“Surprises” is, in effect three plays in one of which Ayckbourn says, ‘Many of the characters in these plays are non-human, either android or virtual holographic creations. Moreover, several of the human characters are of considerably advanced years.

‘However, owing to continued advances in cosmetic and geriatric surgery, they are all, in appearance, remarkably well-preserved for their age.’

The story involves several, intertwined love stories set in a near future where longevity advances have significantly extended human life. The play explores the consequences of such scientific advances and discovers how it affects who and how we love.

We shall see.

It’s not for a couple of months yet but I thought I’d give you fair warning of a brand new and important production that opens in the middle of March. “Cider with Rosie” marks the Everyman’s second in-house production. Last June the first production was “The Glass Menagerie” which marked an momentous landmark in the theatre’s recent history. Not since 1995, and the demise of the rep, has the Everyman produced its own play. The choice of “Cider” has some significance. Not only is the story set locally but it was the last play to be produced in the theatre before work started on the construction of the Regent Arcade and the rebuilding of the backstage in 1982. That production starred Josephine Tewson and Stephen Hancock. It was so successful it was earmarked to be the first play in the theatre after it re-opened in 1985. For one reason or another that didn’t happen so this, in some small way, makes up for it. More details, including an interview with the director Paul Milton, next month.

For those of you who favour an undemanding evening out and just want to be wafted away into a colourful world of fantasy and excitement “Beauty and the Beast” on ice will be the show for you. The Russians seem to have taken over all these big touring shows and the excellent Amande company has recently brought us outstanding operas and ballet productions in the past few months. “Beauty and the Beast” on ice looks as though it will be just as good.