Monday 28th October 2019 at the Grand Opera House, York.
Blood Brothers continues its triumphant circuit on our stages with Lyn Paul reinstated as Mrs Johnstone for one last time. Paul, voted ‘the definitive Mrs Johnstone’, proves wholeheartedly that the accolade is entirely deserved and then some. Joined by yet another cracking cast with many returning faces, this tear-jerker show continues to be in a class of its own.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, Blood Brothers is a lively tale as old as time at this point. A community divided by class and privilege which houses two homes alike in neither dignity nor opportunities. One home belongs to Mrs Johnstone and her ever growing brood and the other, bigger home belongs to the Lyons family; a childless couple made up of one part preoccupied businessman and one part lonely wife staring at empty rooms. When Mrs Johnstone discovers that the soon-to-arrive extra mouth to feed is in fact two, the opportunistic Mrs Lyons pounces to secure a future complete with a darling child of her own at last.
As with most shocking dealings though, it’ll all unravel and end in tears…but thankfully not before many, many laughs. Laced with lacerating political commentary and centring on timeless themes of love, friendship and family, there’s not much that this tale doesn’t cover. Willy Russell’s Book, music and lyrics carry the interweaving narratives of various characters with gorgeously crafted darkness and light, leaving us never too far from the next laugh or tear. The production is full of Liverpudlian charm with strategically placed emotional reprises – the beating heart of the production lies firmly with Russell’s gently transient melodies and those who sing them.
The young and exuberant twins, Mickey Johnstone, played by Alexander Patmore and Edward (Eddie) Lyons, played by Joel Benedict hurtle onto the stage just in time to catch our plummeting hearts following their separation as wee cherubs. Representing entirely different worlds in their journeys from a hilariously naive youth to polar experiences of growing up and getting by, Patmore and Benedict make an excellent duo. Benedict’s take on the sheltered posh boy is a constant source of comedic gold countered beautifully by the scruffy hilarity of Patmore’s take on mucky Mickey. Patmore’s transformation from rip-roaring child to disillusioned grown up is particularly well done and he certainly grips emotions like all the best Mickeys must do.
Lyn Paul’s performance is of course one for the books. Having played the role on and off for twenty years, there’s a familiarity and a sense of complete immersion pervading the entire performance which elevates the whole production. There’s not just the sprightly comedy to admire but also the depth of warmth she brings to the character and the gut gripping catch in her throat as she sings the heart songs of the piece. It’s in the swells of Easy Terms and Tell Me It’s Not True that the hearts of audiences invariably break, with the cradling of ‘constant as the changing weather’ prickling the skin and the eyes in perfected unison.
It’s in the details that Paul wins. The sidelong looks. The skyward glances and the instinctive clips around the ear. It’s in the devastating delivery of ‘please – they’re a pair, they go together’. It’s the combination of twinkles of wit or woe in the eye, that distinctive tone complete with gentle, pure vibrato and that heartbreaking country-esque catch which make Paul the most masterful of Mrs Johnstones and she will be sorely missed when she departs the role once more. Frankly, I’m hoping Paul is set for a Cher-style finale made up of another ten years of ‘farewell’ tours…
Chloe Taylor is a perfectly irate Mrs Lyons and she delivers the wide arc of the character with rare credibility. It’s a long way to travel from the perky early Mrs Lyons to the woman of the second act and Taylor nails it, gaining sympathy for the would-be villain while keeping us entirely aware of her desperately selfish nature.
If Paul is the definitive Mrs Johnstone of the people, then Danielle Corlass is the definitive Linda and Daniel Taylor the definitive Sammy for me. Corlass delivers the full emotional spectrum as Linda and does so with tireless aplomb. With a comedic and tragic flair akin to Paul’s, I’m certain she’ll be a fantastic Mrs Johnstone of the future. Taylor dons the role of Sammy like the seasoned performer he is and steals the stage with each rebellious shenanigan, particularly impressing in the second act as the older but no less gregarious and incorrigible lad of lads.
Just as designer Andy Walmsley brilliantly and efficiently takes us to a divided 60s Liverpool and lighting designer Nick Richings primes us for the unravelling narrative with shifting moods and dramatic transitions, Blood Brothers takes us on a sprawling and gripping journey. Boasting some of the most affecting musical theatre songs out there alongside a book which perfectly balances humour and tragedy, Blood Brothers is certainly a show for the ages – throw in a cast like this one and a ticket is a must!