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Blood Brothers

Willy Russell

Bill Kenwright Productions

Storyhouse, Chester

September 28-October 2, 2021: 2hr 30min. Interval 20min.

For a show that started life as a play in Fazakerley Comprehensive School in Liverpool, and that enjoyed reasonably modest success in its first outing in the Liverpool Everyman, Blood Brothers has done pretty well...

To the tune of over 10,000 shows in 25 years in the West End, productions across the world and several national tours pretty well. What is it that makes this show so special?

Well, a powerfully good story for one. This is a rattling good yarn, a story with music rather than a bunch of songs loosely held together by a feeble storyline. As Willy Russell says: “It’s my job to hook the most disinterested, antipathetic little buggers sitting at the back, the ones like me all those years ago”.

Well hook them he has, again and again. Blood brothers is well known – and loved – by many who have returned to see it time after time. The story is accessible: twins separated at birth whose lives are inextricably interwoven until, in the face of a simple, truthful revelation, their demise is complete.

Yet there is also a depth to the show that opens up more philosophical questions: not merely the hoary old nature versus nurture debate, rather the question of free will in the face of “fate”, and the notion that our actions have inescapable consequences. But you would be very picky to consider it even vaguely preachy.

Despite being a tragedy, the show has a great deal of warmth driven by earthy humour, which portrays working-class life in a positive and realistic way. There are some familiar Willy Russell themes – the speculation of a better life and the bitterness of class ridden struggle among them, but above all there is strong characterisation.

The twins’ mother, Mrs Johnstone, despite having to be hard-hearted enough to give away a child, retains great warmth and affection. The son she keeps is delightfully mischievous until ultimately broken by economic reality, while the son she gives away keeps his common touch, despite the attempts of his adoptive mother to gentrify him. These elements of story, humour and character engage every audience fully and hold attention even though you know it’s all going to end.

Typically the show receives a standing ovation. It is consummately and powerfully acted, despite the presence of three understudies at the performance I saw.

Should this production, all these years later, be trying to find something new? Why? The story continues to speak volumes for itself, Russell has never bettered his score; it’s one of the great ones; we love it the way it is.

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