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Blood Brothers

Willy Russell

Bill Kenwright Productions

The Lowry, Salford Quays

October 18-22; 2hrs 50min

(also Liverpool Empire, October 25- November 5)

Niki Colwell Evans as Mrs Johnstone and the cast of Blood Brothers at the Lowry, Salford.  All pics: Jack Merriman
Niki Colwell Evans as Mrs Johnstone and the cast of Blood Brothers at the Lowry, Salford. All pics: Jack Merriman

Blood Brothers is iconic as the Scouse kitchen sink melodrama, created as a school play, that made it

to the West End to play with the big boys, with a revival that went on to run for 24 years.

It’s actually been everywhere: Australia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Japan, Korea,

even Broadway.

I saw it this week not in Liverpool, but a few miles shy of Manchester in front of a remarkably excited audience at the Lowry, Salford Quays. One can only imagine the excitement next week as it hits the Liverpool Empire, a few miles from the Fazakerley Comprehensive School in which Willy Russell’s original play debuted some 41 years ago.

The story of twins separated at birth, raised at different ends of the spectrum in terms of wealth,

education, parental attention and life opportunity, ends in inevitable schism and a tragic

outcome. There are epic forces at work, couched in very regional language.

What Blood Brothers does well is the slow reveal of declining fortunes that goes with endemic

poverty, in contrast to a life that is affluent and middle class. Written and developed in Thatcher’s

Britain, the show presents the culmination of years of decline in Liverpool, represented in the

fortunes of the Johnstone family, and Mickey in particular, and an inter-generational social malaise

that can’t be fixed by slum clearance and a move to Skem (Skelmersdale, for those not from these parts).

Willy Russell, in the 1980s, succeeded in sharing with us the hopeless entrapment of urban discontent, and we might well remember Blood Brothers as a postcard to the world from that era of political upheaval and unrest.

With a Scouse heart, there are of course moments of true hilarity. Sean Jones galloping and dismounting his imaginary horse as a seven-year-old-Mickey, delivering the poetic monologue I Wish I Was Our Sammy is theatre gold, perhaps even unique in musical theatre – a poem in place of the I am... song. Jones is equally good as teenage Mickey and the depressed young adult, made old before his time by cyclical poverty, prison and depression. Jay Worley also holds his own as Mickey’s well-to-do twin, Eddie, and omnipresent Richard Munday as the suspiciously well-dressed Scouse narrator, brings a sinister air to the proceedings throughout.

Niki Colwell Evans is electrifying as Mrs Johnstone, a role that has been filled by many greats (including Barbara Dickson, Petula Clark, Carole King, Kiki Dee, four Nolan sisters and Mel C) bringing an emotional integrity and intensity to the character of the twins’ natural mother.

The story’s not perfect, and the dialogue between the women early in the show, about giving up one

child, is remarkably two dimensional. The songs, despite a couple of pretty phrases, rely on the

quality of the vocalist and are essentially generic, with more reprises than a film score or even a

Lloyd Webber. I wonder if there’s any possible rhyme I didn’t hear tonight for Marilyn Monroe, and

why she seems to matter so much anyway.

But Blood Brothers did what it set out to do and more. Perhaps we need that postcard from the past.

Perhaps we still know those lives and those people. Perhaps we need to see the universality of a

Greek tragedy, sung in Scouse.

Info and tickets here

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