“Am I going to cry?” I asked my theatre-loving Twitter following. I was hit back with a resounding wall of mentions screaming “Yes”, “100%” and my personal favourite: “It’ll be a miracle if you haven’t wept out your spleen by the end of it.”
This week was my first time going to see the famously sob-worthy Blood Brothers, and I’d packed my tissues ready.
Written by Willy Russell, the musical tells the captivating and moving tale of twins separated at birth who grow up on opposite sides of the breadline, only discovering that they’re in fact related on the very day they meet their fateful end.
Set in Liverpool in post-war 1960s Britain, an authentic set paints a picture of an Everton-loving estate, inhabited by Mrs Johnstone and her brood of children. Struggling to make ends meet, the struggling young single mum takes up a housekeeping job for a nearby wealthy couple across the park, only to discover that she’s expecting again. This time, with twins.
Already finding it difficult to put food on the table, Mrs Johnstone worries how she’ll manage to feed two more hungry mouths in the house. In a handmaid’s tale twist, a moment of weakness sees her promise one of the children to her wealthy barren boss. The secret pact, sworn on the bible, meant neither mother could tell anyone about the devilish deal – for if either child was to find out they were one of a pair, they would surely die.
And so, the production follows poverty-struck Mickey Johnstone and silver spoonfed Edward Lyons – Eddie, to Mickey. We meet them first as innocent, naive and surprisingly convincing seven year olds, navigating playground politics and sibling rivalries. ‘Only-child’ Eddie admires streetwise Mickey, while there’s a reciprocated respect and a strive for success from Mickey to Eddie.
Sean Jones portrays lovable rogue Mickey through the ages in an expert manner, having played him on the West End and in touring shows. There’s no wonder he steps into the role with such ease and familiarity. He’s joined by Jay Worley as Eddie – prim, proper and world’s apart from the Johnstones.
Not only does this poignant production explore the heartbreaking storyline in a careful and detailed way, it also touches upon the widening socio-economic gap between the upper and lower classes, infertility, inequality and cost of living. But at the very centre of it all is a tale of love and friendship.
Mickey and Eddie meet while playing as kids, much to their mother’s equal terror. They’re told to never see or speak to each other again, but the power of blood-brother-bestfriendship saw their words fall on deaf ears. Despite being as similar as chalk and cheese, they grow up inseparable.
Tensions of the narrative grow as the boys age from ‘randy’ adolescents to adulthood. Mickey finds himself driven to a life of crime, while Eddie has a bright and successful future as an Oxbridge student and later, town councillor.
Following the twins each step of the way is the incessantly sinister narrator, portrayed by Richard Munday. You’ll often find him lurking in the shadows or peering from first floor windows, bringing with him a sense of impending doom, reminding the mothers that the devil’s got their number.
The superb score includes Bright New Day, Easy Terms and the ominous Shoes Upon The Table. Niki Evans performs no less than 10 of the 20 tracks in the production, and has an absolutely phenomenal voice. She really stole the show with her signature ‘Marilyn Monroe’ number and even managed to sing through her own tears as her boys met their end to Tell Me It’s Not True.
Paula Tappendaen played the ‘toff’ Mrs Lyons with just the right amount of jitteriness, while her husband, portrayed by homegrown Stokie Tim Churchill, a distracted businessman who was none-the-wiser to his wife’s controversial pact.
Pace quickens as Act Two goes on, taking a dark turn with a point of no return. The Narrator’s foreshadowing over the previous two decades finally comes to a head the day Mickey and Eddie discover they were in fact, brothers by blood.
While I may not have sobbed as anticipated, a tear may have been shed – so there really wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the audience rose for a standing ovation. Gritty and emotional, Blood Brothers is the most devastatingly tragic and heartbreaking musical you’ll see on stage.
The show is on at The Regent Theatre, Hanley, until Saturday, October 1. Visit www.atgtickets.com for tickets.
Read more theatre reviews here: