Over the last 29 years, Blood Brother has nuzzled its way into the hearts of theatre goers with its blend of music, comedy, pathos and social commentary.
The show tells the story of Mrs Johnstone, a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Finding herself pregnant with twins, she realises that she can only afford to keep one of them, so enters into a pact to give one of them to a well-to-do neighbour, Mrs Lyons. The boys meet and become best friends, never knowing that they were twins secretly separated at birth. But as they grow up, their friendship is tested; as their lives take different paths, leading to tragedy. Featuring the songs “Bright New Day”, Marylyn Monroe” and the heart-breaking “Tell Me It’s Not True”, the show still packs out theatres up and down the country and is affectionately known as “the standing ovation musical”.
There is a reason why this play has been so enduring, and that is primarily down to the superb writing by Willy Russell. The loud first act establishes the characters nicely and is very comedy orientated, if sometimes a little bit too shouty in its presentation. But it is in the second act where the writing shines through, with both the progression and changes of the characters and the genuine drama which captivated the audience as it unfolded, leading to the ending which still packs an emotional gut-punch. The production values of the show were very high indeed, with its detailed sets, costumes and props and the presentation as a whole was relatively polished.
There are some very good performances in this production, primarily from Sean Jones, who portrays the transition of Micky from giddy schoolboy to troubled young adult with ease, having made the role very much his own over the years. Kate Jarmon as Mrs Lyons provided an impressive turn as a woman descending into madness and paranoia and rounding off the leads were Joel Benedict as Eddie and Danielle Corelass as Linda, both of whom were equally as strong.
With those performances in mind, it’s a real shame that Marti Pellow disappoints as the Narrator, looking awkward and uncharismatic as he skulks around the set utilising an indeterminable accent whilst over singing and over emphasising every syllable of every word he delivered. Maureen Nolan, offered a really warm portrayal of Mrs Johnstone garnering a genuine empathy from the audience, but whose singing voice was not quite on form on the evening, which is a shame when I have seen her perform much better.
Having seen the show many, many times, this was the first time I felt that Blood Brothers is now starting to show its age a little, with its overuse of electric drums and echo microphone; but it could be said that in some way, that adds to the nostalgia and emphasises that the socio-economic issues addressed when the play was first written are still relevant nearly 30 years later.
Blood Brothers is opening its 2015 tour at the Sheffield Lyceum (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) before touring the country until May, details of which can be found at http://www.kenwright.com/index.php?id=590