Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Blood Brothers

Book, lyrics and music by Willy Russell.
Bill Kenwright by arrangement with Bob Swash
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring.
(2007)

Production photo

Willy Russell is a very brave man – some might even say foolhardy. To write book, lyrics and music himself gives him no one else to blame if the show bombed. Happily far from bombing Blood Brothers has become one of the longest running shows in London’s West End.

Originally written as a seventy minute piece for the Merseyside Young People’s Theatre Company, Russell extended it to a full length musical, and, although acclaimed by the press when it premiered in London in 1985, it was slow to catch on with the public. In 1987, however, producer Bill Kenwright took directional control, and the show is now, twenty years later, still playing to packed houses at the Phoenix Theatre as well as constantly touring and receiving standing ovations wherever it goes, even the second or third time around.

When I entered the crowded theatre foyer last night I was surprised (and pleased) to see so very many young people, but soon discovered that one of the main attractions was Antony Costa, formerly of the multi-award winning boy band Blue, and his many fans were out in force, and were as appreciative of his acting ability as they were of his singing.

Costa plays one of the leading roles (one which he performed last year in the West End), that of Mickey, one of a pair of twins born to Liverpudlian Mrs. Johnstone who already has more children that she can cope with and whose husband has deserted her. Wealthy but childless Mrs. Lyons persuades her to relinquish one of the twins which she will bring up as her own. Separated at birth, one is raised in poverty in Liverpool’s street life while the other has the privileges of education and possessions that wealth can bring, but despite the different life styles the twins are drawn to each other and soon become best friends, to the consternation of Caroline Hartley’s rather neurotic Mrs. Lyons. The twins are caught in some misdemeanour, leading to the policeman’s ironic advice “Make sure he keeps with his own kind!” What is it that makes one a ‘kind’? Nature or nurture?

The very strong story line of this show keeps people engrossed from beginning to end, a roller coaster ride from laughter to tears and back again, until it finishes as it began – with the tragedy of two bodies lying dead on the ground and the song Tell Me It’s Not True sung heartrendingly by Vivienne Carlyle and the full company. Carlyle’s beautiful and powerful voice fills the theatre, emotions present in every song – optimistic in Bright New Day , full of happy memories in Marilyn Monroe, and superstitiously fearful in Shoes upon the Table.

There are many scene changes in this production, and performed so slickly and unobtrusively that one hardly notices how it is done, many due to the performers themselves whisking props on or off coinciding with their exits and entrances and faultlessly timed.

The twins Mickey and Eddie (Simon Wilmont) age quite believably – apart from their size – from the actions and mannerisms of seven year olds to the teenage years when they gradually become aware of sexuality. Nicola Daley is particularly convincing in her role of Linda, the little girl who loves Mickey from the beginning, even though at that age he had no feelings for her except irritation.

My one criticism concerns the Narrator, Keith Burns. Not a thing wrong with his performance, but the sound levels and echoes made his voice disconcertingly appear to come from another direction.

Scouse humour is present throughout, emerging even in tragedy, and often slipped into the smaller roles of milkman, doctor, policeman etc.

Even after twenty year this show shows no sign of outstaying its welcome. Highly recommended!

Touring to Croydon, Liverpool, Derry, Dublin, Cork and Ryl.

Rachel Lynne Brody reviewed this production at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Reviewer: Sheila Connor