Despite reviewing many shows over the years, Blood Brothers has always been one that has escaped my radar. Perhaps intentionally, there comes a point sometimes where I hear so many good things said about a show, I wonder if for me it could be a let-down, or indeed if there’s anything I could add that others haven’t said already. But on Wednesday evening, there I was sat in the stalls of Cardiff’s New Theatre ready to see Bill Kenwright’s international smash hit musical.
Set in Liverpool during the 1960s, Blood Brothers is a story of nature versus nurture. Recently separated, Mrs Johnstone has been left to provide for seven hungry children. Taking a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet, Johnstone finds she is pregnant once again, this time with twins! In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer and gives one of her new babies away. While Eddie is raised in a wealthy family, Mickey stays with his mum in poverty. But although the fraternal twins are taken to opposite ends of the social spectrum, they unwittingly find each other once again as friends. However, as life progresses, a common love interest and division in their separate career paths make for an explosive climax.
The first thing that hit me about Blood Brothers, other than its effective looking terraced house set, was the musical accompaniment directed by Matt Malone. Strong, atmospheric and balanced, the music flows as the characters are introduced as Lyn Paul’s Mrs Johnstone describes her life as a single parent in the song, Marilyn Monroe.
Robbie Scotcher is omnipresent as the narrator, moving in and out of the terraced house windows and doorways while delivering Willy Russell’s poetic narrative with gentle Liverpudlian tones. Although Scotcher’s smartly turned out narrator carries elements of an underlying menace about him, there is also room for humour in the production.
Alexander Patmore and Joel Benedict portray Mickey and Eddie from schoolchildren through to adults. Much of the first half of the show focuses on both characters childhood development via well-observed mannerisms coupled with fun monologues delivered by Patmore about growing up in the Johnstone household. Similarly, Benedict wonderfully displays a child fighting against his nurturing with a wildness coming through, blissfully unaware of his real roots. The boy’s moments together and forming a united friendship as Blood Brothers are both touching and humorous.
Joining them in these scenes are exciting performances from Danielle Corlas as the boys’ friend Linda and Daniel Taylor as Mickey’s rough and tumble older brother, Sammy. While Sammy’s development seems obvious from the outset, his growth as a character living on the edge is fascinating to see, whereas Miss Corlas portrayal of Linda brings a whole gamut of experiences from care-free child via love-struck teenager to world-weary but caring wife, mother and lover.
Mickey and Eddie’s shared admiration and love for Linda becomes a genuine bond of friendship for all three, allowing the audience to feel a love and compassion towards the characters as they grow in their development and experiences.
There is strong support from the ensemble cast. Chloe Taylor eases Mrs Lyons controlling behaviour out gently from a sympathetic employer to a controlling manipulator over Mrs Johnstone and Eddie. All making for dramatic scenarios as the Blood Brothers story develops. I also enjoyed Graham Martin who gave strong characterisations in various roles including a Policeman and a teacher and Tim Churchill who added some lightness to heavier scenes as Mr Lyons.
Lyn Paul gives a magnificent vocal performance as Mrs Johnstone. Living up to the iconic status Miss Paul has been given for the role over the years, she is Natural, believable and pitch perfect. Miss Paul’s rendition of Tell Me Its Not True stayed with me long after the cast took their final bows. Its incredible to think this will be her last tour and I’m so glad I saw her in the role.
Balancing comedy with edgy drama that jolts your comfort in the productions final moments, Blood Brothers not only tells a story of fraternal twins but also the stark contrast of life in Liverpool during the 60s and 70s, including rehousing schemes and rising unemployment, the latter highlighted brilliantly with the song, Miss Jones.
My Blood Brothers experience was enthralling and enjoyable balancing the elements of comedy, drama and music to perfection. If you still haven’t seen Blood Brothers, make a point of doing so. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without seeing it.
Blood Brothers continues its run at Cardiff’s New Theatre until September 28.