“Blood Brothers” is nearly 30 years old and one of the most successful stage shows of modern times but for some reason I have always missed it and tonight was my first chance to catch the show. One of the problems always with a show like this is will it actually live up to be everything you have heard that it is – the answer is a big yes. “Blood Brothers” was one of those few theatrical moments where the show was actually far better than I ever imagined it may be.
“Blood Brothers” is the singular vision of one man – writer and then later composer of the songs – Willy Russell, and it is perhaps this very singular approach that gives this show such a unique stage identity. I keep referring to this as a show rather than a musical because although there are some wonderful songs here, they never as some stage songs do interrupt the story in any way, and at its heart “Blood Brothers” is a wonderful story that like all good stories operates on far more than one level.
At its heart this is the tale of the often down on her luck Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) struggling to bring up the children she already has on her own (her husband has left her for a new and younger Marilyn Monroe look-alike) when she discovers that not only is she pregnant again but this time it is twins. One more mouth to feed she could just about manage, but two is an impossibility, so the heart-breaking decision is made to let one twin go to another woman Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden) whom she cleans house for. With this, the story of twin brothers torn apart at birth and given two completely different lives without either knowing the relationship between them is set.
Lyn Paul is the latest in a long line of great female leads to play Mrs Johnstone and her performance here is outstanding both vocally as a singer and as an actress. Her life is a hard one of little or no money, too many children to try and feed, poor housing and just no way out of her problems. Pretty much everything she “owns” is being bought on credit payment plans and is often returned when she can no longer afford the payments. Lyn Paul’s portrayal here actually reminded me so much of many of these strong and always fighting the odds women that I knew from growing up. Mrs Johnstone is one of the great characters of theatre – written so well that she is a real person and you as an audience member actually take a like to her from the very start and care a little about this woman. Lyn Paul is of course the person that brings this character so vividly to life on stage.
Twins Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Joel Benedict) are both so well suited to their parts as the strands of fate twist and bring them together as children and then later as friends in their teenage years without either knowing their real relationship is anything other than a childish pact to become “blood brothers”. Growing up with Mickey and crossing over into Eddie’s life is Linda (Danielle Corlass), and watching Danielle portray this once full of life young girl as her dreams just get crushed so early in her adult life is one of the more interesting but sadder elements to this story.
We do get to meet some of Mickey’s family here including his slightly older (and never out of trouble) brother Sammy (Peter Washington). Watching all our principal children played by their adult cast is at first a little odd, but quickly you just see them as children (theatre can let you do that), and somehow those days when children did go out and play in the streets and ride imaginary horses as they played Cowboys and Indians Is magically re-created along with that innocence that seems to exist so rarely now for children...a time when imagination was a child’s best toy.
This story is always working on many levels and it is the strength of the story itself and the skills of the cast that let this work so well. Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden) has become paranoid that someone will take her “child” away from her and has become at best unstable. Sean Jones portrays Mickey as he becomes unable to function in any meaningful way without prescription drugs for depression brought on initially by a term in prison, and watching how this destroys not only him but those around him can be emotional.
Also holding this story together is the narrator (Kristofer Harding) who links everything together as we go in rhyming couplets. This gives the show an old and slightly Shakespearian feel to it at times.
There are of course some great songs here too –“Marilyn Monroe”, “Bright New Day”, “Tell Me it’s Not True” and “Easy Terms” to name but a few. Even the song “Marilyn Monroe” develops its own storyline as we move on through this tale.
A great show. One visit to it and you will understand why “Blood Brothers” has become such a stage phenomenon over the years
So many issues are raised here – the classic “nature or nurture” question, poverty, debt, money and the opportunities it brings to you, drug dependency, family values, relationships, jealousy - the list goes on.
Review byTom King