The tale of two brothers who were separated at birth and reunited in adult life by an unlikely turn of events begins a two-week run in Dubai tonight.
A new production of Blood Brothers, one of the longest-running West End musicals and now in its 22nd year, premieres at the Madinat Jumeirah's First Group Theatre today. The original, written by Willy Russell, has been seen by in excess of 20 million people in more than 20 countries and translated into 35 languages. The Dubai version has been directed by John Payton and produced by Popular Productions.
Ahead of the show, Emirates Business caught up with the lead actors, Mark Hammersley, who plays Mickey?Johnstone, Rob Wilshaw, who is cast as Eddie Lyons, and Lisa Peace, who plays Mrs Johnstone.
Is this your first time in the region? If so, what are you looking forward to doing the most apart from performing?
Mark: I am incredibly excited to see the Burj Khalifa. Architecture is a great love of mine, so to be able to see the tallest building in the world is something I am really looking forward to. I also have a tradition that if a city I am performing in has an aquarium, then I have to go visit. I believe Dubai has two fantastic such centres, so that will be two more ticked off the list.
Lisa: Apart from stopping in Abu Dhabi Airport on the way to Australia twice, yes, it's my first time.
Rob: Yes, this is my first time in Dubai. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the sights, especially the tallest building. It will also be a dream to escape the ice cold British weather for a warmer climate.
Tell us a little more about Blood Brothers in your own words. What would you say it's about?
Mark: I think Blood Brothers is about opportunities and what you do with them. The decisions that several of the characters make at the start of the piece twist and colour every opportunity they and their families subsequently get, with tragic consequences.
Lisa: It's a wonderfully moving piece. A desperate mother who is forced to give away one of her new born twins, because of her financial situation and a second wealthy woman's need for a child. She is manipulated into believing that some atrocity will be done to the twins if they are ever to meet. Therefore, a promise is made to keep them apart from each other and for it all to be kept a secret. Just as most secrets always catch up with you and are eventually found out, everything is revealed, through natural circumstances. Things turn sour and truths are revealed too late and by accident the twins die. It makes one wonder if these tragic developments would have occurred if they had known from the beginning, that they were brothers. Who is to blame? It portrays two very extreme, contrasting ways of life and the hurt and guilt of two desperate mothers wanting only the best for their children and the extent to which they are forced to achieve this. Set in Liverpool, this heartfelt story is also filled with hard-hitting humour and should definitely not be missed.
Rob: Blood Brothers is a remarkable piece of theatre. Willy Russell's writing is extremely clever and the scenes and songs run smoothly together. The piece has the audience laughing one minute and crying the next.
How many times had you seen the production before becoming involved in this one?
Mark: Once. I remember it vividly. It was on a school trip to the Manchester Opera House. I knew nothing about the show and was just totally blown away. Every person in the theatre – and the Opera House is a big venue – was entranced. It has a power that is very rare in musical theatre, it communicates with an audience in a very special way.
Lisa: Once in London's West End and then on tour.
Rob: I have seen the touring production a couple of times. I never dreamt that I would be given the opportunity to play the character of Eddie.
For the Dubai run of the show, how did your audition come about?
Mark: Like all my auditions, my agent submits my details for the producers' review. I've been involved with the UK production, both on tour and in the West End also.
Rob: I found out that I had an audition whilst on tour for Evita. At the time we were in Torquay so I had to make the six-hour round trip to London on a number of occasions for recalls.
Did you have to change your accent for the show?
Mark:?I am from Manchester so there is a difference but I love accent work, it helps to embed you in a character.
Lisa: Yes I did. I have always wanted to attempt the Liverpudlian accent because it was one of my favourites and my mother originally comes from there, so...
Rob: I have quite a neutral accent but originating from Wales, a touch of Welsh comes out from time to time. So, it's best that I use an RP accent for Eddie.
Personally, what element of the show do you find the most challenging?
Mark:?Many of the weighty emotional scenes are towards the end of the play for Mickey, but I find the first act the most challenging. Mickey is seven years old for the whole of the first half of the show and keeping up the energy of a child for that long can be really exhausting. You forget how fit you were when you were a kid.
Lisa: I would have to say, sustaining the depth of emotion which is needed to tell this compelling story. It takes a lot of focus and energy.
Rob: The most challenging part of the show is trying to show Eddie at all his different ages in the show.
What's next for you after the run in Dubai?
Mark: More work, I hope. I have several projects underway and I do a lot of work with new writers and directors which is always ongoing. Of course, if Peter Jackson needs any ruddy faced, shorter gentlemen for The Hobbit I am sure I could make myself available.
Lisa: I'm not sure yet. Hopefully lots of auditions, leading to lots of work. I was previously working on a couple of original projects for people, which I may be asked to continue.
Rob: After the job I go back to auditioning.
If you could star in any show in the world, which would it be and why?
Mark: There's a Jason Robert Brown show called Parade, that I have wanted to do for years, but it is only very rarely performed, which is a real shame because it's wonderful. I also adore Shakespeare; it's what first got me interested in acting. I would love to do Titus Andronicus – when you remember that Shakespeare wrote for the common man in the street, it's essentially the Rambo of its time.
Lisa: I would love to play Donna in Mamma Mia. She is fun but a little damaged and is in need of finding something good and solid in her life and she finds it.
Rob: I would love to play Bert in Mary Poppins. I've seen the show three times and get blown away every time.
And who would you love to perform with?
Mark: I recently saw Fiona Shaw in Mother Courage at the National Theatre in London and she was incredible. She had such passion, honesty and focus that it felt like she was performing just for me. I would love to work with her, but I worry I would just stand there awestruck. Perhaps I could play a lamp in her next production.
Lisa: Ewan McGregor, Judy Dench, Meryl Streep and Derek Jacobi. Not all at once of course. Not sure my heart could take it.
Rob:?I would love to perform with Julie Walters. I think she is an amazing actress who I could learn a lot from.
Finally, name one musical you watched in 2009 that really stuck with you – do you have any suggestions for the Dubai audience, say if they go to London on holiday?
Mark: The one show I recommend to everyone is Avenue Q. It's basically Sesame Street for adults, and is one of the most original productions on in London at the moment. It's hilarious, expertly written and educational.
Lisa: Blood Brothers! I love it. It's the best musical in London's West End. However, I would also highly recommend Mamma Mia. I was pleasantly surprised. The famous songs were cleverly entwined into the fun script and there is also some romantic depth to the story line.
Rob: If you're looking for a guaranteed evening of light-hearted fun I would suggest Hairspray.
Show times and tickets
Blood Brothers runs until February 6 at the First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat, Jumeirah. Show times are 7.30pm or 1pm on various days. Tickets are priced Dh189 with a discount for schools and groups on request at the box office. Tickets can be purchased by calling 800 4669 or at seebloodbrothers.com or from the box office at Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
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