Recently I admitted to a close friend that I had never seen Willy Russell’s acclaimed musical, ‘Blood Brothers’. This admission prompted a sharp scowl followed by the statement “until you see this musical, you cannot call yourself a theatre critic”. To my friend’s relief, I (hopefully) can now once again call myself a theatre critic after attending the latest UK touring production of ‘Blood Brothers’ at the Edinburgh Playhouse. ‘Blood Brothers’ is the captivating and moving tale of twins who, separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences.
Amy Robbins is staggering as Mrs Johnstone. Amy’s portrayal of this damaged matriarch is simply stunning. The audience are entranced from start to finish with Amy’s realistic and devastating portrayal of this working-class woman, coerced into giving up one of her twins. Vocally this is a performance which seamlessly translates profound emotion into song with such ease. Amy’s performance of the musical numbers is understated, yet this doesn’t under energize these moments, it brings depth and a sense of realism. One of the most notable musical performances from Amy is the breathtaking, devastating blow that is ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, no wonder this cued the infamous standing ovation. Amy Robbins portrayal of Mrs Johnstone is a must see for those who hold this musical so dearly.
Robbie Scotcher delivers an intimidating and haunting presence as the Narrator. Robbie’s portrayal of the Narrator could easily represent death himself, reminding the characters “The devils got your number” as the twins rediscover one another. This is a strong performance from Robbie, presenting a menacing and at points sympathetic presence, overlooking the tragic events that unfold during ‘Blood Brothers’.
Alexander Patmore’s heartbreaking portrayal of Mickey is incredible. Alexander’s versatile performance captures the youthful and comedic energy of Mickey as a child perfectly. When the journey then moves to Mickey’s struggles as a working-class adult, the shift in Alexander’s performance is astonishing. Especially Alexander’s portrayal of Mickey’s struggles with depression, the clear deterioration and paranoia is hard to watch. This is a well-rounded and truly captivating performance of a young working-class man/child’s struggles in 1950s-1970s Liverpool. Joel Benedict as Eddie, radiates innocence and intrigue as a child clearly out of place in the middle-class regions of Liverpool. Even with similarities of interest, Joel depicts Eddie with clear contrasts from Mickey, showing the influence that the Lyons have had on his upbringing. By the end of the production, both Alexander and Joel have managed to isolate both twins (Mickey and Eddie) from one another by perfectly portraying the social gap between the two, making the tragic finale even more effective and heartbreaking.
Paula Teppenden presents us with a broken and stone-cold middle-class woman in her portrayal of Mrs Lyons. The warmth presented by Paula at the beginning of act one easily connects the audience to Mrs Lyons, therefore when things take a dark turn it makes the cold change of this character more effective. Mrs Lyons desperation and actions create conflict with the audience’s perception as Paula makes the intentions for Mrs Lyons’ actions so clear yet we do have to ask are they warranted? This is an engaging and complex portrayal from Paula.
Danielle Corlass delivers a heartbreaking portrayal of Linda, a young scouse lass who steps into the stresses of adult life so quickly. Danielle does well to relate Linda back to Mrs Johnstone’s past. There is almost a mirroring effect, however the modernization of this story is told well through Danielle’s portrayal.
There is a small ensemble involved in this production who take on various roles in such a versatile and energetic manner. The ensemble are as follows: Tim Churchill (Mr Lyons), Matt Slack (Policeman/Teacher), Grace Galloway (Donna Marie/Miss Jones), Andy Owens (Perkins), Josh Capper (Neighbour), Hannah Barr (Brenda) and Graeme Kinniburgh (Bus Conductor).
This production is directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, both of these creatives have created a fast-paced production which brilliantly captures 1950s-1970s working-class, and at some points middle-class Liverpool. The understanding and passion for this story plus the time period it is based in is clear. This is without a doubt the best Bill Kenwright production I have ever seen. Andy Walmsley’s design for this production amplifies the directors’ vision, fully emerging us in Liverpool and the surrounding areas, with realistic looking council housing and two great backdrops. Also, the costume is what truly implies the timeline efficiently. Nick Richings’ dynamic lighting design also lifts the production further creating great visuals, suiting the emotion in each scene perfectly.
Willy Russell’s book, music & lyrics tells the story of the Johnstone twins in a way rarely seen in musical theatre, where the music isn’t designed to be catchy or a showstopper, but purely to drive the narrative. ‘Blood Brothers’ could be mistaken for a play with songs for how reliant it is on the narrative rather than the musical numbers. This doesn’t take away from how entertaining and captivating this production really is. Willy Russell’s work is timeless, the musical is very bloody long, but it’s timeless. This production clearly hasn’t been rejuvenated for the 21st century as it seems to be the same production from the 1980s. Usually I unforgivingly criticize dated touring productions, but ‘Blood Brothers’ has a design which perfectly portrays the story. I feel to update this production could take away from it’s 1950s-1970s setting and perhaps deter the authenticity that comes with this UK touring production.
‘Blood Brothers’ is a gut wrenching, devastating but simply stunning musical which tells the story of 1950s-1970s British working class struggles in such an ingenious and creative way. The story of the Johnstone twins is still THE “standing ovation musical”, even after almost forty years.
Get your tickets here: