theatre requires a certain suspension of disbelief, musical theatre even more
so. Yet ironically, nearly 30 years on from its original production, the thing
that continues to initially trip me up about Willy Russell's
This latest touring production sees the triumphant return of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, a fine vocal performance that exudes the character’s fundamental warmth and determination to make the best life she can for her family.
Of course, the separation of two baby boys, destined to grow up in different social classes is the necessary core of Russell's take on the old "nature versus nurture" argument. The life-chances of Mickey (the twin Mrs Johnstone kept) and Eddie (the baby she gave away) are shown most clearly in the reaction of the authorities when both boys are discovered throwing stones at someone's window. (Despite the best efforts of both mothers, but especially Mrs Lyons, Mickey and Eddie have met and become best friends.) With Mrs Johnstone, the policeman is full of threats of court summons and her children being taken into care; with respectable businessman Mr Lyons, it's just a polite drink and a joke about docking Eddie's pocket money.
This latest touring production sees the triumphant return of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, a fine vocal performance that exudes the character’s fundamental warmth and determination to make the best life she can for her family. She is ably supported by Sean Jones, who brilliantly carries Micky’s fateful journey from energy-exploding seven year old to the numb ex-con who has lost his way. Joel Benedict makes his professional debut as Eddie, but carries himself extremely well – even if his character's life journey is nowhere as extreme as Mickey's.
Danielle Corlass is initially somewhat light as the Blood Brothers' best friend Linda, who – from the off – is attracted to Mickey while not unaware of Eddie's own feelings for her. She comes into her own, though, during the second half, when essentially she becomes a second Mrs Johnstone, desperate to do her best for the man she still loves – even though he's hiding from her in his addiction to anti-depressants. Paula Tappenden, as the fragile Mrs Lyons, carries what is a somewhat unsympathetic role well, even if her final act in the drama is poorly-choreographed, requires the audience to be told about it. Interestingly, Kristofer Harding is ideal as the sharp-suited narrator, seldom off stage and yet only acknowledged by some characters at moments of highest stress.
Bereft of big musical and/or dance numbers, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers is a remarkably intimate work that nevertheless doesn't feel dwarfed in a venue the size of the Edinburgh Playhouse. Which, possibly, is the least important reason why it continues to resonate and entertain audiences today.