'Blood Brothers'

by Willy Russell

directed by Phil Young

Theater Heilbronn (Germany) 1992

children's fight Act 1Mrs Lyons imagines pregnancyFinale Act One Act two openingSchooldaysthree on holidayLovers' tryst

For all the images please scroll to the right ........

This was the German première of Willy Russell's successful musical. The photos above read from left to right, chronologically through the show, beginning with the children fighting/playing in the slums of Liverpool in the fifties. The slums were represented by a large (4.5m x 5m high) wall centre stage with a central door of Mrs Johnson's house. The cyclorama was unremittingly red throughout up to the end of the first act. Two further 5m walls were placed left and right with narrow, steeply raked passageways exiting upstage in between. The walls and floor were painted with a monochromatic photographic image of gloomy slum dwellings.

You can just about make out the travelator running across the stage (the actor lying down in the brown jumper is on it) which was the device used throughout the show to affect furniture and location changes. As an example the second image, (also showing the use of flown images, upstage of the travelator, to define the interior space of the Lyons' household), has furniture set for the first scene with Mrs Lyons - middle class, wealthy but childless - with Mrs Johnson - poor, single parent, with five children and pregnant yet again ...... and this time with twins! The scene is set for the ensuing tragedy.

The third picture is the finale of Act One. The news has reached Mrs Johnson's family that the slums are to be cleared and that they will be re-housed on a new estate in the country - 'Oh Bright New Day'. Big scene change. The central wall collapses upstage, (forming a raked main acting area for the rest of the show), trees grow up through the stage floor, (including the opening of the central doorway of the central wall), fanning out Christmas decoration style, the two side ramps splay out diagonally, the side walls disappear left and right and the cyclorama cross fades from red to an intense blue. (see the pictures of the model below)

In the intense blue atmosphere (mercury vapour lamps) of the second act, (from the fourth image onwards above), the the space opened up and the slums were replaced by sixties high rise apartment blocks represented by two orange, triangular in plan, towers of doors which, very slowly and continuosly, opened during the act. The insides of the doors were painted a rich blue. Gradually a metal bridge descended, also a series of street lights dropped in, arranged to create a perspective, and an internally lit street sign. An effect was thus attempted to increase a sense of urbanisation through the sixties and the set was incrementally transformed into an impression of 'motorway'.

The show was very successful, selling out immediately (largely due to a very effective ticket subscription system) and several additional performances were hastily arranged during the run. This was an enjoyable experience working with excellent, well motivated technical staff in all departments in a well equipped, modern (1983) German theatre.

The sequence of model photographs below attempt to clarify the development of the set design of the first act. The false proscenium we felt was necessary to provide a context of vandalised urban decay for the piece. The reference for the panelled, defaced structure was a depressing bus shelter in Liverpool.

show preset (model) funeralMrs Johnson's first song 50's teddyboy scene cloth Slum set Act 1 Groundplan Act 1 Act one finale/transformation Groundplan Act 2

The show pre-set - a false proscenium which served as the frame within which the show was performed.

The large downstage front wall was used to reveal, firstly (top), the two brothers' funeral in silhouette and then, after the flat had slowly dropped back to the floor, dividing in the centre for Mrs. Johnson's entrance for her first song.

The backdrop revealed after Mrs Johnson's first song is the setting for a fifties dance number. The cloth, a deep gold fringe along the bottom, flew out, gathered, Odeon cinema style.

The main set for the first act focused on a central wall (4m wide, 5m high) with a central door to Mrs Johnson's house. Two alleys raked upstage either side flanked by two further 'slum' flats.

The basic groundplan for Act One

The climax of Act One. The central wall fell downupstage, hinged on its base, the flanking flats moved offstage, the two alleyways pivoted offstage left and right, four 'trees' grew up through the stage floor, fanning out as they emerged, all sympathetically timed with a crossfade of light from the dominant (depressing) red cyclorama of the first act to a brilliant (optimistic) blue precurser of the second.

The basic groundplan for Act Two.

NB: the position of the two towers, the stage left and right masking flats straddling the travelator, the pivoted raked walkways linking the upstage surround walkway and the centre stage flat of Act One collapsed upstage forming the central acting area for Act Two.

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Updated May 2001