Blood Brothers

All 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 Blood Brothers is the apparently appalling state of post-natal health and social care in 1960s’ Liverpool. Was it really so easy for a poor working class mother like Mrs Johnstone to claim that one of her new-born babies had died? Was it equally that simple for respectable middle-class Mrs Lyons to suddenly have a son despite a stated medical history of being unable to carry a baby to full term?

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. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Written by Willy Russell, the legendary Blood Brothers tells the captivating and moving tale of twins who, separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences.

Few musicals have received quite such acclaim as the multi-award winning Blood Brothers. Bill Kenwright’s production surpassed 10,000 performances in London’s West End, one of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone. It has been affectionately christened the ‘Standing Ovation Musical’, as inevitably it “brings the audience cheering to its feet and roaring its approval” (The Daily Mail).

Lyn Paul returns to the iconic role she has played many times in the West End, in fact she was the show’s final Mrs Johnstone when it closed at The Phoenix Theatre in 2012. Lyn also starred in Bill Kenwright’s tour of Cabaret with Will Young in 2013 and rose to fame as a member of the pop group New Seekers whose numerous number one hits include ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ which sold over 20 million copies.

The superb score includes Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged hit Tell Me It’s Not True