It's a cracking 5 STARS for Blood Brothers, one of only three musicals to notch up over 10,000 performances at the West End. Showing at Windsor's Theatre Royal Feb 27 – March 04.
First, I must admit that I am a huge fan of musicals. Second, I believe that even those that claim they do not like musicals would be blown away by this production of Blood Brothers.
Willy Russell’s story about a pair of twins, separated at birth, is sensational. “So did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like as each other as two new pins, of one womb born, on the self-same day, how one was kept and the other…” Though brought up in very different neighbourhoods in Liverpool, fate ensures they are never apart for long.
In Act One, the story clearly, sensitively and humorously depicts the struggles of Mrs Johnstone and her brood. The act that she believes could save her family from being torn apart, has vast consequences. Lyn Paul’s Mrs Johnstone is flawless. Her incredible voice, coupled with her ability to make the audience feel the love for her family and the turmoil at the way her hand has been forced, makes your heart want to break.
On the better side of town, Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) initially has our sympathy; yet her calculating ways and decline into paranoia cool our view of her, raising our esteem and fondness for Mrs Johnstone in the process. The array of well-acted smaller parts give the story depth, humour and enables us to see quite how differently Mickey and Eddie are treated by society.
Class divides, poverty, pride, love for the family, friendships and romance are all themes delicately woven into the story. Like a modern day Shakespearian tragedy, it is timeless. It is a tale that has not dated, and is as relevant today as it was when it was first written and performed over thirty years ago.
The story is a moral one too, with most characters trying to do the right thing, but making bad decisions due to dire circumstances. The results are tragic, and far reaching. The Narrator – the excellent Dean Chisnall – more than once states that “a debt is a debt, and must be paid,” no matter what that debt is. His strong and rich voice gave me chills when he sang Shoes Upon the Table, and all its subsequent reprises.
However tragic the storyline, Willy Russell has managed to craft a musical which is also full of humour. The script is littered with quips and little touches that make you laugh out loud, the songs are powerful and unforgettable, and the acting is superb. Watching Mickey (Sean Jones), Eddie (Mark Hutchinson) and Linda (Alison Crawford) grow up is hilarious. Their energy on stage is phenomenal and their take on how 7 and 14 year olds act is both remarkable and particularly memorable. I also have to add that Sean Jones’ (Mickey) take on act two was exceptional, making the final scene all the more poignant and shocking (literally).
Having seen the show in London many years before, I was familiar with the music; but this production has slowed it down, softened it, and given it a richer quality. Elements of jazz and reggae can also be heard in some of the rifts. The result? The audience are treated to a production with such vocal clarity that every word of the immensely clever script and lyrics can be heard, and not one moment of the storyline is lost. Some of the more heart-wrenching lyrics are even more haunting thanks to an inspired use of reverb.
The final Tell Me It’s Not True is rousing and emotive – don’t forget your tissues. An immediate and very well deserved standing ovation met the very talented cast, and four curtain calls followed. If you haven’t booked tickets, I would immediately. This was a very special production and one that should not be missed!
- Blood Brothers is at the Theatre Royal Feb 27 – Mar 04, for tickets visit theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk
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