When We Were Brothers Review

The Underground, Bradford – until Saturday 5th May 2018

Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood


Freedom Studios presents and brings When We Were Brothers for its world premiere at The Underground Bar in Bradford. Written by Ben Tagoe this play explores the journey of two men growing up in the world and it raises relevant issues and the expectations it brings, which are crucial in today’s society.

Intimately set in a bar where the small audience can have a drink while they watch the play. The three person cast narrate chronologically key events in the lives of Danny (Levi Payne) and Tommo (Philip D McQuillan) and they share with the audience their childhoods, growing up and their highs and lows. There is point when both boys reach 18 years old and when they go their separate ways – Danny goes down to London to study at university and Tommo stays in Bradford and work.

Stigma around mental health in men is raised and well documented with Tommo recollecting that “Lads don’t cry” when he shares his experiences of his grandfather’s funeral and is conditioned to put a “front” and close conversations with “Mate, I’m fine” and “I don’t want to talk about it”. There is vulnerability with Tommo following his relationship with his Uncle Trevor and the bullying he experienced and also the loss of his baby girl. These events take its toll and he ends up being desperate and unable to cope anymore. It leaves him sending a message to Danny who detects there is something wrong and is the only person who probably can help him.

One must admire the excellent performance from beginning to end from McQuillan (Tommo), Payne (Danny) and Vanessa Pound (Julie). They portray the characters really well and successfully identify the crucial issues. The production is entertaining but poignantly raises awareness around men and mental health. Awareness of such issues is present with the beer mats on the tables advertising services from CALM (Campaign Against Living Misery) and their aim is to keep men alive by talking. Their aim is to prevent male suicide which is reported as a single killer of men under 45 years in this country.

Freedom Studios are reputed to present productions that touch and raise issues that really matter and When We Were Brothers is no exception. An excellent production, under the direction of Aisha Khan, is set in such a relaxed setting, in a bar, which creates the right mood and ambience for people, particularly men, to talk. The bar was a focal point for both Tommo and Danny where they parted and reunited during the play.

When We Were Brothers meet the criteria for a night out and is highly recommendable. The production is playing in Bradford and also at Bolton’s Reveal Festival.