‘There’s shoes upon the table an’ a joker in the pack…’
Blood bonds, fragmented families and a sinister secret; Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers takes the concept of twins separated at birth and creates an intense fable that warns of the dangers of hidden pacts and explores the nature vs nurture theory.
The plot of this famed musical is set in Liverpool, beginning in the 1960s and evolves around twin brothers Eddie and Mickey; their working-class mother, Mrs Johnstone, cannot afford to keep both of them and as a result secretly agrees to let the childless and affluent Mrs Lyons adopt Eddie. The two women strive to keep the boys apart, yet Eddie and Mickey are drawn together throughout their lives due to a deep friendship and a fascination with the other’s lifestyle. If anything, Russell’s narrative is concerned with the class issues faced in the North-West in this era and the mass unemployment and poverty experienced by the working classes during the recession in the 1980s.
“There was ample energy and entertainment to carry audience members smiling to the interval”
Russell’s musical is a veteran of the West End and Bob Tomson’s production does not disappoint this legacy. Tomson’s years of experience are evident from the slick execution of the scene transitions and the physical choreography. Andy Walmsley, the designer, must be commended for his incredible set which depicted an industrial housing estate with picturesque back-drops illustrating Liverpool’s grand waterfront skyline, with the Liver Building at the centre of the image. Different locations throughout the story were indicated by decorated flats being dropped in and out from the fly system. This was simple yet effective as the set changes were swift due to the professional nature of the production and allowed the pace to continue without disrupting the narrative with copious scene changes and blackouts.
With regards to the performances, Sean Jones as Mickey and Joel Benedict as Eddie were the most memorable. Their portrayals of their characters as children were highly convincing and had the majority of the audience in fits of giggles. From their pretend games of ‘cowboys and Indians’ to even how they sat down, there was ample energy and entertainment to carry audience members smiling to the interval. Danielle Corlass was charming as young Linda, with her high-pitched scouse accent and her hair tied back in ‘bunchies’. However, her accent seemed to falter in the second act which seemed to draw away from the character’s roots from an inner city slum.
“The combination of her superb singing voice and charisma on stage brought charm and warmth to what eventually becomes a harrowing tale”
Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone was magnificent; it is clear why she has returned to this role several times in her career. Her final rendition of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ brought the entire auditorium to its feet. The combination of her superb singing voice and charisma on stage brought charm and warmth to what eventually becomes a harrowing tale.
The factors which stop this production being a near perfect spectacle are the disparity of accents. As many of the characters originate from deprived estates in Liverpool in the mid-twentieth century, it would have been fitting for these characters to have strong scouse accents; some of the actors sounded like they had just waltzed out of the Wirral. Moreover, Paula Tappenden’s over-exaggerated portrayal of Mrs Lyons seemed out of place with the rest of the piece; she screamed many of her lines to convey madness and paranoia which ultimately made her scenes cringe-worthy when sharing the stage with the allure of Kristofer Harding’s ominous narrator.
Overall, this production had all the fun and charm of the classic musical. Although personally, I do not think Blood Brothers is a particularly strong musical with regards to the memorability of the musical numbers and a somewhat stagnant second act, this particular production soared in my estimations and left me with goosebumps as I left the Theatre Royal’s beautiful proscenium arch theatre.
‘Blood Brothers’ is running at Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 20th February. For more information, see here