Tuesday 5th April 2022 at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, York.
It’s been 40 years since its Liverpool premiere and Willy Russell’s multi award-winning Blood Brothers remains one of the most popular musicals around – and with good reason. The laughs are plentiful and the heartbreak inevitable – throw in the lively and soaring musical numbers and you’ve got yourself a layered musical which runs the gamut of emotions.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, this bustling production follows the story of the Johnstone twins. Separated at birth and raised in polar opposite households by polar opposite mothers, the lives of Mickey Johnstone and Eddie Lyons could scarcely be more different, but the pair are drawn together by a strong unnamed bond and their friendship is the foundation on which all hilarity and tragedy is built.
Willy Russell’s work finds much of its success in stark contrasts. It’s not just a case of rich/ poor, though this show is known in part for its social commentary and politically charged jibes at “signs of the times”. The contrasts are in everything, making the highs high and the lows bottom-of-the-barrel-deep. The hubbub of an overcrowded family makes us chuckle just as the silence of a lonely home for one very over-protected child makes us feel sorry for the wee boy. The scrappy grime sitting alongside squeaky clean starched perfection is the source of plenty of visual comedy. Most importantly though, we’re thoroughly won over by the cheeky, devil-may-care joys of youth just as we’re wounded by the impact of the harsh realities of adulthood on the funny kids we’ve found so endearing.
The current touring cast is rich with seasoned returning cast members, and it shows. Niki Evans (Mrs Johnstone) and Paula Tappenden (Mrs Lyons) are returning to their roles after previous stints over the years, while Sean Jones and Danny Taylor remain the familiar faces many of us look forward to seeing.
Evans is an assured, charismatic Mrs Johnstone who belts to the rafters just as feelingly as she whispers her heartbreak in hushed tones. Tappenden’s Mrs Lyons is given her blindly optimistic-to-unhinged transformation with great sincerity and Taylor once more delights as the swaggering, snot-launching Sammy, nailing the transformation from big kid up to no good to young man… still up to no good!
This is apparently Sean Jones’ last tour as Mickey, and he’s on top form here – so much so it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing such a lovably chaotic tearaway who becomes the victim of chance and circumstance quite as well as he does. Joel Benedict’s Eddie is a fantastic counterpart for Mickey, as Benedict matches Jones in energy but plants Eddie firmly and hilariously as the antithesis of every last outrageously uncouth action Mickey commits. Carly Burns also joins the cast and takes up the stilettos of Linda like she’s been destined for them in a performance which delivers on the vital shades of darkness and light.
With book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell, the sense of cohesion and clarity of plot and purpose is a cornerstone of Blood Brothers’ success and lasting appeal. The script is full of wit and pathos, the songs are full of boppy fun and heartbreak and the music is at times enough to pluck at heartstrings before the lyrics are even sung. Andy Walmsley’s set design brings the streets of Liverpool to life through an iconic cityscape backdrop featuring the Liver Buildings and when it’s time for some drama, Nick Richings’ lighting comes into its own with fragmented light mirroring the anguish oozing from our troubled characters.
Blood Brothers holds its ground as a classic and as a musical theatre great – with so many big personalities on parade, such big heart and such big, expressive musical moments throughout, it proves itself worthy of its place on the touring circuit every time it sets off anew.
This tour of Blood Brothers plays the Grand Theatre and Opera House, York until April 9th 2022 and you can find your tickets here. It then continues its tour until August 13th 2022 and you can find information about dates, venues and tickets here.