Willy Russell’s timeless, tragic tale of twins growing up on opposite sides of the class divide makes its way to the Birmingham Hippodrome – and feels as relevant and poignant today as it did 30 years ago
On a council estate in Liverpool, single mum Mrs Johnstone does her best to provide for her children, working as a housekeeper and barely scraping by. That is, until she finds she’s “in the club” again… with twins. Her employer, who is unable to conceive and yearns for a child of her own, proposes a bargain; she’ll secretly adopt one of the babies for herself.
Over the next 20 years, long lost brothers Mickey and Eddie cross paths over and over, becoming best friends and eventually falling for the same girl. All the while, the fateful choice made by two desperate women looms over them. The looming sense of doom which permeates the production is cut through with flashes of earthy humour, and lifted by characters who feel fully fleshed out.
The phenomenal Lyn Paul has been playing Mrs J on-and-off for the last two decades, and she wears the role like a second skin from the very first scene. Her first big number is ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ a song which pops up again in refrains to tell a story of dreams deferred, potential squandered and innocence lost. And then she goes and breaks your heart in the heavy-hearted ‘Easy Terms,’ in which she relinquishes one of her sons to parents who can offer him the world, condemning the other to “life on the never-never.”
Paul is undoubtedly the star of the show, although the rest of the cast are no slouches. Sean Jones and Joel Benedict are each charming as Mickey and Eddie, with Jones really sinking his teeth into the role of the brother left on the breadline. As Eddie’s adoptive mother Mrs Lyons, Sarah Jane Buckley turns in a suitably genteel performance which edges towards the unhinged as the story unfolds, while Danielle Corlass exudes sweetness as the boys’ childhood sweetheart Linda. And the ever-present Dean Chisnall’s powerful vocals lend a growing feeling of dread to his Greek chorus-style narration.
Even if musicals aren’t your thing, the performances in Blood Brothers are compelling and naturalistic enough to appeal. There’s not a jazz hand in sight; grit and guts are what make this show worth seeing.