Produced by Bill Kenwright
New Theatre Oxford and touring
Review by Robin Strapp
Willy Russell set Blood Brothers when the country was in a recession with harsh working class deprivation and a chasm dividing the poor and the rich so the musical resonates as much today as it did when it was written over 28 years ago. He explores themes of nature versus nurture, superstition, fate and class.
This current production is simply terrific with a stellar cast who performed with energy and brio and received a standing ovation at the end from an enthusiastic audience who demanded more.
The story of the Johnstone twins who were separated at birth from their working class mother who could no longer cope with the poverty and stress of bringing up her brood of seven children is a moving, heart wrenching and tragic tale.
She gives one of the twins to Mrs Lyons, her middle class employer where she works as a cleaner in the hope that he will have a better life but it results in a catastrophic end that we witness at the beginning of the performance.
X Factor semi-finalist Niki Evans brings a raw grittiness to the role of Mrs Johnstone and she sings beautifully whether it be about the harsh realism of living on the never-never in the song Easy Terms or the uplifting Bright New Day when the family move from their Liverpool squalor to a new estate in the country and the powerful signature song Tell Me it's Not True had many in the audience reaching for their tissues.
Tracey Spencer is the perfect foil as Mrs Lyons, desperately trying for a baby, who hatches the dastardly plot to take one of the twins. Mr Lyons (Tim Churchill) is abroad on business so the plan to make him think it is their baby will just about work.
As for the twins Sean Jones creates a totally believable character as the rough and ready Mickey and Paul Davies is a spiffing Eddie. Both actors captured the transition from eight year olds to adults with a convincing ease. The poignant moment when they discover they were born on the self same day and become blood brothers was moving.
Kelly-Anne Gower brought the love element into the play in a sterling performance as Mickey's girlfriend. You had to feel for her when she falls pregnant and Mickey looses his job and is persuaded by his brother Sammy (Daniel Taylor) to help in a robbery.
Narrating the story and lurking in the shadows is the intimidating Craig Price who spells out the inevitability of the tale. There is excellent support from a talented ensemble who play kids with a sheer blissful joy and a myriad of other characters.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright with musical direction by Kelvin Towse this was an electrifyingly emotional evening. If you haven't seen Blood Brothers I urge you to go and, if you have, go to watch Niki Evans a star in the making.
Touring to Southsea (3rd to 7th May) Grimsby (9th to 14th May), York (16th to 21st May), Dunstable (23rd to 29th May). Tour continues into the summer.