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I haven't written for a short while now. My forays into the world of opinion writing are becoming less frequent, due to the inordinate amount of time spent at Uni (students have it easy? Yeah, right), and so, I want to do something that's going to leave an impression when I do get chance to write. Well, looks like I might be managing it, seeing as two of my last three posts (including this one) have been entirely new categories!
Willy Russell is undoubtably best known for his smash stage musical "Blood Brothers," but of all his pieces, this is my favourite. When I was in college, the play was staged by the entry-level course to my own, and though the performances were, shall we say, aketchy, the heart of the piece still permeated the thick veneer of directorial force which had had to be exerted. However, my most recent brush with the play came earlier this calendar year (the last academic year) when, as the final first year performance project for part of my group, I was cast as Eddie.
The play itself, as with most, if not all of Russell's work, is set in Liverpool. Taking place in the late 70's, and drawing many of it's cultural references from that era, it tells the tale of a soon-to-be-wed couple's stag and hen night's, both of which are, unwittingly, taking place in the same disco. Set entirely in the toilet area of the venue, the play's main focus is on the groups collective struggles to find companionship and a sense of belonging, both within their friendship circle and in the area as a whole.
The central female character is Linda, the bride-to-be. Her happy hen night with the girls is spoiled however, by the arrival of an old flame, Peter, who has long since moved on from his dour surroundings, and found fame in a chart-topping band. Their chance meeting reminds Linda of what could have been, and what maybe could still be, if only she is able to break away from the city of her birth.
Russell's characters are well-drawn, and well-defined, and the social pecking-order is easy to see. At the top of the male tree is:
Eddie. Captain of the football team, he is the undoubted patriarch of the group, and is only to quick to quell any idea of uprising. A man's man, drinking ale and eschewing the chasing of women in order to get more and more drunk. His main fault is his short fuse, which tends to lead to violent outbursts, most notably, when he learns that Peter is an "old friend" of Linda's. He will protect his circle of friends at all costs - anyone who turns his back on him, however, is immediately cut dead.
Dave. Eddie's best mate, and the prospective groom. After obviously drinking too much, spends the entire play with his head in the toilet.
Robbie. An unabashed ladies' man, who has the ability to pull anyone he wants. The only one in the group with the guts to even nearly stand up to Eddie, albeit in a way that won't jeopordise his position in the football team. One of the boys.
Kav. A talented artist, who, unfortunately, and despite Peter's later urgings, lacks the conviction, or the belief in his own talents to break away from his cosy surroundings and attempt to make it on his own. Content to go along with whatever the group want, and happy to ride on the other's coat-tails.
Billy. The most junior memeber of the goup, Billy comes across as being a little slow, although occassionally flashes of something else will come through, which lead you to believe that somewhere along the line, he has learnt it is easier to appear slow and fit in, than to stand out.
The girls fall into an equally ordered structure.
Bernadette. The mother figure. She is an older, more experienced woman, already married. However, behind her jovial veneer, she hides a deeper sense of feelings and emotions, which are only rarely allowed to show.
Linda. The girls' main focal point on the night. Never really sure if what she is doing is right, whether she really wants to get tied to a husband while there is still so much she hasn't done or seen. This is best refflected in her conversations with Frances. The other girls put this down simply to nerves, but when she sees Peter, it gives her a glimpse of what life could be, if only she had the courage..
Frances. Linda's best friend, and the one person who sees the danger when she sees Peter and Linda together. A voice of reason, albeit one who is clearly as brainwashed in the "them and us" way of thinking as everyone else.
Carol. The female Robbie, although not quite as high up the pecking order as her male counterpart. Carol loves the fellas, and is not shy about it.
Maureen (Mo) The youngest, shyest, most emotional and naive member of the hens. She is idealistic, believing in true love and marriage as a sacred institute, and voicing these beliefs. She is also quite a lightweight - a couple of drinks and she'll chat to anyone! (Although of course, not doing too much)
Finally, there is Peter. Peter was part of the lads group years earlier, before forging his own way in the world through his talents. He laments the lack of drive in his former friends, and tries to convince Linda that everything could be so much better for her elsewhere.
The play deals with themes of isolation, and the insularness (if such a word exists) of the working-class communities in those times, where there was a real "them and us" culture. This is best summed up in the character of Eddie, who is willing to embrace his friends, just so long as they conform to the status quo. As for the dramatic finale, in which the two older characters have to try and keep everyone else from falling to pieces, while at the same time trying to preserve their friend's marriage plans (albeit for the completely selfish reason of tying them down so that they can't get away) is perfectly written.
Russell has a knack for writing superb dramas which can really open your eyes. This one is as relevant today as it was when it was first written, and will still be relevant years from now. Those universal themes of trying to break away from something that is inbuilt, from the very place and the people that have moulded you will always make sense, and so will this play. Believe me, you will study yourself just that little bit harder; imagine all those missed opportunities; and pray that you can end up a Peter, and not an Eddie.
FANTASTIC op and guess what? we did this play in school and i was frances so its one of my faves. I love willy russell and also played mrs johnstone in our unis version of blood brothers!What do u reckon to educating rita and shirley valentine? great op btw on my personal fave!Louisa:)
Ariel 24.10.2001 11:07
Good to get an op on a play from the point of view of someone on the stage side. Good, detailed op.