Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, and Touring
When Willy Russell decided to write a musical, much to the derision of friends and acquaintances, he could hardly have imagined that it would still be having a profound effect on audiences more than twenty years later.
After all, his only intention was to come up with hummable tunes. He's certainly done that with Blood Brothers which has had theatregoers humming along at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End for more than fifteen years and is now captivating people around the country again.
It's a simple enough tale: a working-class mum with seven children in Liverpool in the '60s believes she can just about cope when she falls pregnant again but on giving birth to twin boys she has to give one away to a childless woman for whom she cleans house.
The two boys' paths cross despite their mothers' trying to keep them apart and they become blood brothers. But as they grow older one becomes successful while the other spirals into a life of crime and depression before both suffer tragic consequences.
The musical has not only made an impact on audiences - it's been an integral part of some actors' lives too. None more so than Linda Nolan. She's been playing the lead role of Mrs Johnstone for the past three years, yet puts as much emotion into it now as she did on opening night.
She's made the part her own and is ideal for it. She looks mumsy, she acts mumsy and even other people's kids can go to her with their troubles.
At the end Linda Nolan sheds real tears. She puts so much emotion into her performances she's on the verge of cracking up, as any mother would in her situation. No wonder the Belgrade audience gave her a standing ovation.
I've now seen Blood Brothers five times and this version, directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, is probably the best of the lot. Not only is Linda Nolan without equal as Mrs Johnstone, the whole cast give unforgettable performances.
Sean Jones and Drew Ashton as the twins Mickey and Eddie are perfectly matched. Jones ages seamlessly from the seven-year-old mischievous kid to the manic depressive ex-convict while Ashton looks a different person when he transforms himself from the precocious child to the respected councillor.
Debbie Eden is equally impressive as love-interest Linda, maturing from a silly child through voluptuous teenager to a careworn woman who is old before her time.
Keith Burns plays the Narrator in a totally different way to how I've seen the character portrayed before. He's not as menacing nor as in-your-face as other Narrators - he's far more subtle yet he's always there, continually nagging at the actors' conscience.
The only dissatisfaction is with the programme which features an unflattering picture of Linda Nolan and articles which I read when I first saw the show ten years ago!
If you're a fan of musicals, you'll adore Blood Brothers. If you only ever put yourself out to see one example of the genre, again it must be Blood Brothers. You may not find it quite as moving as Linda Nolan during the final song Tell Me It's Not True - but if you don't have a lump in your throat, you'll be one on your own. And you'll be humming those tunes for days afterwards.
"Blood Brothers" is at the Belgrade until January 31st and tours until November 27th
Peter Lathan reviewed this production at the Sunderland Empire in 2003.
Reviewer: Steve Orme