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Within this essay I intend to evaluate and compare the similarities and differences between two devised thematic scripts intended for performance to an audience. The two scripts I have chosen to compare are Blood Brothers, as originally written for and performed by Merseyside Young People’s Theatre Company, and Annie, as performed by Hill House St Mary’s School Doncaster, 2007.
I shall begin with a basic outline of each story, and the way in which it was intended to be performed.
Blood Brothers is a tragedy, a tale of love, brotherhood and class set in Britain in the 1980’s, which highlights the economic turbulence the country, and especially the working class, were in the midst of in this period. It begins with Mrs Johnston, a humble working class Liverpudlian, who falls in love and marries. Unfortunately the man she falls in love with is false and deceitful, and leaves her after impregnating her with what they believed would be their eighth child.
In contrast, Mrs Lyons in an upper-middle class happily-married woman who, due to unfortunate biological barriers, is unable to conceive. Mrs Johnston, in a brave attempt to provide more for her burgeoning family, begins work as a cleaner for Mrs Lyons whilst her husband is away on a nine-month business excursion. All is well until Mrs Lyons leaves a new pair of shoes on the table. Mrs Johnston finds out she is having twins, and Mrs Lyons persuades her, in her desperation, to let her adopt one. No-one except the two mothers know about the separation, and both boys are forbidden from ever going near the areas in which each of them lived.
Inevitably, they meet, and their destiny becomes intertwined, ending in tragedy. Because of it’s occasional use of strong language and strong adult themes, I think Blood Brothers is aimed at teenagers and adults aged fourteen and over.
Annie is a family-orientated musical, set in New York in the 1920’s. It is superficially a funny, happy and generally child-orientated play, but adults will pick up on the deeply unhappy story of economic struggle and class divide in New York in this period, under the presidency of Franklin J. Roosevelt. It tells the story of a young orphan named Annie, who lives in and orphanage in the poor Brooklyn area of New York. Annie’s one aim in life is to find out the true identity of her parents, and fate intervenes when she is temporarily adopted over the Christmas holidays by Mr (Daddy) Warbucks.
Although Mr Warbucks originally intended to adopt a boy, he soon comes to enjoy Annie’s company. When he finds out about Annie’s parental plight, he offers a ten thousand dollar reward for anyone who can prove themselves to be Annie’s blood parents. As expected, many try to scam their way to the money, but only one pair come close, almost managing to take Annie and the money as far away from Daddy Warbucks as possible. Nonetheless, the story ends happily, with Mr Warbucks officially adopting Annie. The play is very family-orientated, (although there is enough of a sub-plot to keep adults entertained too) and contains no strong language, so I think it would be suitable for children and adults of all ages.
The immediate difference when watching the two shows is the acting style. The acting style in Blood Brothers is natural, but narrated. This means actors act as if there is no audience, responding to and playing off only each other. However, there is a narrator who speaks directly to the audience in conjunction with bursts of poetry from Mrs Johnston between scenes. The narrator usually speaks in riddles, which the audience are intended to discover the meaning to as the plot furthers.
On the contrary, the acting style in Annie is entirely unnatural. Although acting is mainly intercharactorial, on occasion (especially through song and dance) it is performed directly to the audience. This makes the audience feel more involved, and makes it more fun and more suitable for children, whereas in Blood Brothers the audience require at least a modicum of insightfulness to enjoy the production.
A similarity is, however, the basis of the story, the adoption of a child, from a poor, working class background into a richer, more comfortable middle/upper class, albeit at different ages. In Blood Brothers, Edward (one of the twins) is adopted as a baby by a woman who raises him almost single-handedly. In Annie, Annie is adopted into an extremely wealthy – if unorthodox – family consisting of a strong alpha male (Mr Warbucks) and his team of employees, who act as brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, and in the case of Grace (Mr Warbucks’ personal assistant) it could even be argued a mother.
Another strong similarity is the underlying current of dissatisfaction and class segregation in both 1920’s America and 1980’s Britain. In Annie it is portrayed especially through a scene in a ‘Hooverville,’ (local term for a slum) where the resident bums sing a song of dissatisfaction, and economic fraud, inviting the man who was behind their misfortune – Herbert Hoover – over for a Christmas Dinner (where he was the main course).
The clash of classes is never so painfully evident in Blood Brothers as when Edward returns home from university full of joy and optimism, only to find Mickey depressed and pessimistic about his future. The closure of so much industry by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s left many redundant and on the dole, Mickey included. This didn’t effect Edward in the slightest, and he is left bewildered by Mickey’s frosty reception when he returns home to Merseyside. It is no coincidence that both scenes are set close to Christmastime, where all across the west the gap between the affluent and the broke could not be more obvious.
The main character similarity between the two plays is between the two surrogate mothers – Grace in Annie and Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers. I find the most striking similarity to be their suppressed matriarchal desires – they both desire to be strong mother figures, but are unable become so through their work commitments (Grace) or their biological barriers (Mrs Lyons). Both jump at the chance of having a child to care for – Grace at the orphanage, Mrs Lyons upon hearing Mrs Johnston’s twins dilemma.
The other similarity is between Edward and Annie. Both are adopted into higher classes than the ones they were born into, and both develop an extremely optimistic view on life. Both could be considered the luckiest characters(until the final scene, at least) because of both the remarkable coincidences which led up to their adoption, and the fact that they were adopted into sufficiently affluent, comfortable (in Annie’s case overly so) homes.
There are three more prominent differences between the plays. The first is the chronology. Blood Brothers joins the brothers in and around the most important periods of their lives, at the points where their destinies entwine, right to the very end. The fact that it has a small cast, with two real male leads, is the second difference. Annie follows Annie, a girl of around eleven years of age, for a few weeks – at most a few months of her life. It has a large cast, with four or possibly five leads, although Annie is the real lead and the centre of attention at almost every point in the production.
The final difference, and the one the audience will find separates the play the furthest, is the ending. This is where the genre of the production really comes into play. Blood Brothers is a tragedy, and ends with a heart-wrenching (if slightly predictable) ending, climaxing in the revelation to the boys that they are actually brothers, and their subsequent death. This is a sad reminder of where lies lead, and is an attempt by the writer to warn the audience of messing with fate – and the ultimate punishment for doing so. This leaves a lasting message with the audience.
Annie, however, ends with perhaps the best outcome possible. After Daddy Warbucks becomes aware of the scam to try and claim the money by impostors, he offers to adopt her himself, an invitation she gladly accepts, in a heart-warming (although, again, slightly predictable – another similarity perhaps?) finale. The impostors are arrested and sent to jail, and everyone sings to their heart’s content on Christmas day, leaving the audience with that warm feeling in the pit of their stomach (the one that’s nice, not indigestion).
Overall, I think the similarities between the productions is enough to warrant the evaluation that, on the most basic level at least, Annie and Blood Brothers are the same story, only told in a completely different manner – hence the enormous differences. Despite the dissimilarity in ending, both productions cause some very interesting debates, such as whether nature or nurture is more influential in the upbringing of a child, or whether class and social divides really are influential enough to prevent friendships that, in other conditions, may have blossomed.
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