That’s part of what appealed to David Kramer (Kramer has adapted the musical to give it a Cape Town setting District 6 and the Cape Flats in the Sixties) about Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers, which is set in Liverpool, but deals with the same issues of poverty, desperation and slow-burning tragedy.
That last phrase makes the show sound like about as much fun as attending a euthenasia workshop, but that’s inaccurate. In between the moments of emotional and physical hardship, there is plenty of joy in the playing together of children, the intermittent reunions of old friends, the discovery of love and in the songs sung by the cast.
Kramer’s new lyrics work well despite being, in some instances, very different from the originals (the strong melodies are retained). A case in point is the song Die Tokoloshe, sung by the narrator (Elton Landrew), which is used as a regular link in the second act, highlighting the role that bad luck linked to superstition or otherwise seems to play in the characters’ lives.
Ephraim Gordon and Dean Balie, who play Mickey and Edward the separated twins respectively, have challenging roles, as they are required to be convincing, in the span of a couple of hours, as seven- year olds, teenagers and young men. Some of the mannerisms as kids veer too close to caricature, but both actors are talented individuals, and judged on their complete performances, they do admirably well.
The star of the show, however, is without doubt Bianca le Grange as Mrs Johnstone, the mother of the twins – and a truckful of other kids. Her singing is emotive, with her pitch and tone both excellent. And to that she adds impressive, persuasive depth to a character whom many observers would, should they encounter her in real life, pity rather than look to for inspiration.