Tell Me It's Not True
Two houses, not alike in dignity (the rich ones are bananas), in fair Liverpool, where Willy Russell lays his scene.
I had been practising my rendition of Tell Me It’s Not True for months from the comfort of my home (sorry neighbours) so needless to say I was pumped for the Court Theatre to take on Blood Brothers.
The world renowned musical, tells the story of the Johnston twins. A story laced with commentary on nature vs. nurture, class systems and gun control, playing on superstition and analogies to the life of Marilyn Munro (Willy was clearly a big fan), set to catchy, and where the moment calls for it, moving tunes. And if you like jazzy, dramatic sax solos you are in for a real treat.
When the show starts with two bodies on the stage (and if thats not enough, spelled out by the narrator shortly after), the end is a foregone conclusion - not really a spoiler alert unless you showed up not knowing which show you were going to.
But watching the pieces of the puzzle be placed and the artful way recurring themes and symbols build upon one another to foreshadow the dramatic crescendo, is totally absorbing. The continuous momentum maintained when transitioning between scenes and clever use of the stage portrays the passing of time - hurtling towards the inevitable conclusion leaving you desperately hoping that fate might put a foot wrong and things might be different.
The Court’s usual high standards in production, set design, costumes and all the critical details which come together to transport the audience to Liverpool were evident. The piling up of suitcases during the big move (set to the soundtrack of Bright New Day) was reminiscent of A Case History, a sculpture in Liverpool (which is a pile of suitcases, surprise surprise), a nice touch.
But the performances of the cast were the absolute standout of this show. Unwaveringly powerful performances across the board took the audience on a roller coaster of emotion. My allergies were certainly threatening to act up during the finale of Tell Me Its Not True (which thankfully dissuaded me from putting my rehearsing into practice by joining in).
Matt Pike, as the omniscient Narrator, BLEW. OUR. MINDS. I disturbed many people around me after his first burst of song by loudly proclaiming “Well that was awesome”. The devil’s got your number indeed. Lurking about ominously in the background, from the first time Pike’s Narrator steps centre stage and unleashes a voice which can only be described as freaking glorious, he steals the show.
Ben Hoejtes as Mickey brings a Chris Lilley-esque vibe to the comedic side of his hilarious and heartbreaking performance (if Jonah Takalua was from Liverpool) and delivers a gut wrenching performance when the laughs stop and the arc which starts Mickey’s descent begins. Cameron Douglas as Eddie (who, as an aside, is a ridiculously versatile actor) is yet again, subtly phenomenal. These actors have to tackle the tough age progression from 7 (nearly 8) into adulthood, and is so cleverly done through their voices and body language you would swear they age before your eyes - they literally looked smaller playing the young versions of their character, which is suppose is either magic or exceptional acting.
Juliet Reynolds-Midgely, in the tough role of Mrs Lyons (a wench with no redeeming features), manages to make her sympathetic at times and has a crazy amazing voice which makes every note seem effortless. Roy Snow who is becoming a regular and crowd favourite at the Court, nails it once again, this time playing multiple roles, switching from milkman to gynaecologist to workaholic father.
Last but the opposite of least, Ali Harper is magnificent as Mrs Johnston. Its hard to say anything more than that, but in my vast experience of viewing YouTube clips of the show since attending suggests you would be hard pressed to find a better Mrs Johnston on any stage, anywhere. While her required age range is less challenging a progression than starting at age seven, she has to tackle the even tougher task of portraying a loss of hope, youth, dancing and a child, keeping the audience transfixed, start to finish.
There is a reason that Blood Brothers currently holds the record of longest running show on the West End and the number of times it has been performed must be in the ridiculous. I can’t claim to have seen them all (or actually any of the others - Blood Brothers novice) but the stunning combination of Harper, Pike, Douglas, and Hoetjes is like a choir of scouse angels, whose voices rival any of the recordings I have been maniacally trawling through on iTunes and Spotify since seeing the show to try and relive it (which I will be by going again).
There are bigger questions of class and genetics which may keep you thinking long after you leave the theatre, but its more likely you’ll find yourself humming the songs (more loudly than you mean to in public) for weeks to come.