REVIEW: Blood Brothers: Theatre Royal

November 28, 2016


Having seen it a number of times, I’m always impressed how Willy Russell’s musical is always a brilliantly captivating experience despite its potential drawbacks. Its songs aren’t exactly great – though Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True always hit the mark; its plot is slightly contrived and very manipulative; it seems to have remained unchanged in its staging for decades (an evil part of me wants them to bring in a radical director who will give it an all female cast and set it during the last years of the Weimar Republic). But despite all this its finale brings a tear to the eye every damn time.

Set in Liverpool in the ’70s, the it tells the story of Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) a poor Catholic woman who has seven kids and another on the way. Except this new one, according to her gynaecologist, is actually twins.

She had budgeted to just about scrape by when the new baby arrives, but her scrimping won’t extend to feeding two mouths. She has a job cleaning house of local posho Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) who can’t have kids herself and can’t adopt as her husband is dead set against raising a child who doesn’t share his DNA. So Mrs Johnstone has one too many kids, Mrs Lyons one too few and, fortuitously, her husband is out of the country for nine months…

Lyons persuades Mrs Johnstone to hand over one of her children. The action then moves on seven years and Mickey (Josh Capper), the son who stayed with his natural mother, becomes best friends with neighbourhood toff Eddie (Mark Hutchinson).

They innocently play together, pronouncing themselves blood brothers, little realising how apt that term is. But as they grown older their lives diverge on different tracks determined by class until they both fall in love with the same childhood sweetheart Linda (Alison Crawford).

Paul gives a truly committed performance carefully balancing her character’s toughness and vulnerability. When she tells Mrs Lyons to choose one of her children but ‘just don’t tell me which one’, the despair in her voice is heartbreaking. Capper fully realises the descent of a likeable young man brought down due to prison, pills, unemployment and the seemingly malign hand of fate. Dean Chisnall’s narrator – perhaps the visible manifestation of this fate – has the requisite amount of steely non-attachment; when he occasionally hints at some sympathy it therefore becomes more affecting.

Blood Brothers is more than a conventional weepie though. Underlying it all is an anger at the the iniquities of the class system. Its political analysis is not exactly subtle – nothing about the show is subtle – but if you understand that subtlety is not necessarily a virtue you’ll be won over by this big-hearted, tough-minded, hugely entertaining evening.

Continues at the Theatre Royal, Brighton until December 3.

For more information and tickets click here.