Brothers of the Brush
Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin
With clowns to the left of him and a joker to his right, house painter Lar is stuck in the middle with no-one. For all-round handyman Lar is one for whom no good deed goes unpunished. Trying to do the right thing by the Union and his fellow workers several years before resulted in a backlash that almost saw Lar lose his family and his home. Now, as he tries to keep his head down and just do his job decorating a series of apartments for shady business man Martin, Lar could well be facing another backlash for trying to do right by his family. This time courtesy of two workmates, Heno and Jack, whose own interests, legitimate and otherwise, come in direct conflict with Lar's. In Jimmy Murphy’s searing “Brothers of the Brush” the ordinary working man is the eternal pawn in the never ending power play between employers and Unions, each looking to serve their own interests in the name of his best interests. It may be a quarter of a century since its was first produced in 1993, but “Brothers of the Brush” still retains the power to incite outrage while making you laugh out loud, packing a huge, bowl-you-over punch as it does so.
Murphy’s stirring script still proves frighteningly relevant twenty-five years on, with its worrying concerns surrounding hard working people losing their homes, or older workers being exploited, all in the name of responding to the market. Even if it shows hints of datedness around the gills at times, such as working for twenty-five quid a week, much of that translates into modern metaphors for the current conditions of near poverty under which many people are being forced to work and live. Conditions which ensure those who know how to exploit the system, and how to take advantage of the most vulnerable, have the best chance of surviving.
None more so than Stephen Jones’s superb Heno, looking like a hangover from the 70s/80s in his Shakin’ Stevens, throwback denims, a superb costume design by Jen Dwyer. Jones’s stunningly impressive Heno, with slicked back hair, Magnum moustache, ear stud and gold chain, embodies all you love to hate, and hate to love, as the self serving Union man working hard to do nothing, playing the system, and his colleagues, to his own advantage. If the ever shaping Heno, perched high on his ladder-like throne, risks looking and sounding like a jokey caricature at times, it’s a testament to Jones that he never topples over into being so. Gerard Byrne’s superb Jack, the elder statesman of the painting crew, indignant in his sense of entitlement based on nothing other than his seniority, is wonderfully articulated. As is Luke Griffin’s quick buck, corner cutting businessman, Martin, always looking to squeeze those around him for every last ounce. Stephen Cromwell as the hard working Lar, caught in a system that destroys good people, gives a beautifully nuanced performance. Under Tracy Ryan’s fast flowing direction, everything moves at a sharp, steady pace, with Ryan responding beautifully to the cramped demands of Fenna Von Hirschheydt's impressive set. One which sees all four characters captured within its caged confines.
In “Brothers of the Brush,” the political left and capitalist right prove to be two halves of the same parasitic coin. One which offers either a rock or a hard place from which to try and survive, with people like Lar being damned if they do and damned if they don’t. For Heno and Martin are but mirror images, lusting after power at the expense of those around them. Offering hints of Three Stooges funny alongside Marxist level smarts, “Brothers of the Brush” does exactly what it says on the tin, delivering a deeply moving, hilariously funny, irresistibly powerful experience.
“Brothers of the Brush” by Jimmy Murphy, presented by Verdant Productions, runs at The Viking Theatre until November 17.