Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Blood Painters and Pitmen Brothers

September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Throughout our time in London, we have been fortunate enough to go to a large variety of shows.  Some of been concerts, including a stint at the Proms, a free Watch This Space African-fusion band, and the Phantasm piece we heard in the Church of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, but we have also seen Shakespearian plays, 20th century works, and now a musical.  Despite all of these experiences, many of which I have blogged about previously, I think that the two most recent works we saw, The Pitmen Painters and Blood Brothers, have the most similarities and differences between them.

The first was the Pitmen Painters, a wonderful tale that explored the meaning of art and what art is to each and every individual.  What I really enjoyed about this particular play was the brilliant characterization of the pitmen by both Lee Hall, the writer, and the actors.  Through the progression of time, the characters managed to go from knowing practically nothing about art to appreciating the outlet that art is offering them in their daily lives.  In one part of the play, Oliver has an epiphany that makes him realize that the art class he was taking could allow him to do bigger and brighter things outside of the small mining town he has lived in for his entire life.  Despite the fact that nothing really ends up coming from this for Oliver, this realization, and his turning down of a possible patroness earlier in the play,  come back to haunt him when he realizes what he could have been if his circumstances and social class had been different.

The second was Blood Brothers, a rather mediocre story that explored the lives of twin brothers separated at birth and how they grow up in very different social circumstances.  The first main issue I had with Blood Brothers was that the sound was off the entire show.  I have a music background and I adore musical theatre, so it really bugs me when a professional theatre puts on a show, let alone a musical, and the sound is off for the whole performance.  That was one major strike against them.  The second issue I had wasn’t as much with the performance of the show, but the show itself.  Though I can tolerate her, I am not a big Marilyn Monroe fan.  Why, oh why, was she a reoccurring theme of the show?  There was not only a song titled Marilyn Monroe, but also three reprises attempting to tie the blond actress to the circumstances of the Johnston and Lyon families.  If this musical was a paper being graded, the links between the families and Monroe would not stand up for any professor or high school teacher I have ever met. 

 

Why, oh why, Marilyn Monroe???

Why, oh why, Marilyn Monroe???

The main thing that these two shows have in common (other than a character named Mr Lyons) is the exploration of problems between social classes.  In the Pitmen Painters I got the sense that the miners want to take an art appreciation class in order to get an idea of what the higher classes spend their copious amount of time and money being patron to.  This juxtaposition between the high class art and the working class pitmen is a reoccurring theme.  Throughout the play the discomfort of the pitmenin noble homes and art galleries is evident because they feel that they are not worthy of being in these elegant spaces.  Although the sentiment is similar in Blood Brothers, the comparison of social classes comes on a much different scale.  From the beginning there is a clear-cut comparison between the dingy home of Mrs Johnston and all of her children with the elegant and cleanly-kept Lyons home.  As the show progresses and Mickey and Eddie become the focus as young children, the lines between social classes are blurred slightly for them.  Both Eddie and Mickey know that they aren’t supposed to go to the other’s part of the neighborhood, but they act as children do, playing games and going on adventures.  By the end of the show, the divisions between the twins become even more evident.  Mickey is laid off because of cuts at the factory, while Eddie brings home friends from college in order to have a massive New Year’s party.  From this point on, social class is the most important factor in the show.  In many ways, both boys end up dead in the end because of the constraints put on them by social class.

Tags: Kelley · Theatre

Bloody Hell.

September 12th, 2009 · 3 Comments

I feel the need to pop the Blood Brothers cherry in the Norwich Humanities blog. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly impressed, to put it lightly, nor do I think many of us were. Unfortunately, I’m not a great lover of musicals in general, so I already had a bit of a strike against me going into the performance, but I felt my mind was open enough. After the first number or two, I began to realize what I was in for, though I tried my best to take the play for what it was all throughout the first act. Unfortunately, what it was was an over-the-top, stereotypical fluff musical marred by samey 80′s inspired music, bizarre British superstitions, melodrama, sound mixing that was too loud even for me, and too many mentions of the name “Marilyn Monroe.” By act two I could barely keep it together. Every time the narrator/Greek chorus/God figure made an appearance onstage (which was about every thirty seconds), Sarah and I would start snarfing, and then the Bon Jovi-esque drums would come in, and it was all over for me. I think my lip is bleeding from biting it so hard, and the narrator man is going to haunt my dreams.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but some of my attitude is coming from being a bit punchy from working on my walking tour for too long. In all honesty, I thought most of the acting was quite good, especially given the fact that the actors didn’t often have a lot of character to work with. I also thought the story itself actually had potential to be interesting, even though it’s one of those stories you come across several times a lifetime (I was reminded heavily of the Prince and the Pauper and even White Teeth, though the themes are a bit different in the latter). The “nature vs. nurture” theme is an interesting one to consider in light of the class structure in England, since at the end Mickey laments that if only he had been the twin to go to the Lyons’ his life would have turned out very differently, without pain or struggle. This is an interesting note to end on without further exploration in the play, since the wealthier characters never seem to be happy with their lot, either: Mrs. Lyons was unable to have a baby, and when she finally got one, she lived her whole life in fear of anyone finding out what she had done, and Eddie was torn between two worlds, as well as struggling with his secret love for Linda. I understand that the play is supposed to be a tragedy, but I would have been happier with the ending if I got more of a sense that the characters (or the ones that were still alive) had learned something, rather than just crying over the dead bodies before the curtain dropped. And there was a standing ovation. There wasn’t a standing ovation at Pitmen Painters, but there was for Blood Brothers.

Frankly, I just don’t think there are many musicals out there that will ever grab me (besides Urinetown!, but the whole premise of that one is to mock musicals themselves). I also thought Blood Brothers suffered from a severe case of melodrama, cookie-cutter characters, overproduction (I mean, really, I don’t need a drastic light cue as well as an ominous synthesizer noise to tell me something’s about to happen)…and those damn 80′s hair band drum fills.

Tags: Chelsea · Theatre