Updated: Feb 26, 2020
As it begins its UK tour at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, it’s not hard to see why Blood Brothers captivated West End audiences for over two decades.
Leading the cast as Mrs Johnstone, Lyn Paul is sensational. From start to finish, she creates a character who we root for and embodies her with humour. Most importantly, her Mrs Johnstone is completely believable throughout – she never succumbs to the melodrama that the text can allow and the whole production is much better for it. This tour is her farewell performance in the role and her absence will be a great loss to the part she has played regularly over the last twenty years.
Alexander Patmore as Mickey and Joel Benedict as Eddie are simply perfect in their roles. They both convince and impress in their characters’ transitions from seven-year olds, to teenagers and finally adults. They build and maintain a great rapport between their characters which makes the later scenes between them even more emotionally charged. They are ably supported by Danielle Corlass as Linda, who transforms from a brash teenager to a damaged young woman, creating touching relationships with both male characters.
Robbie Scotcher as the Narrator has a fantastic voice and a menacing presence. He occasionally becomes part of the action, interestingly opening up interpretation of just what his character represents.
The talented ensemble play a number of roles and it is nice that Willy Russell’s script and the direction by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright infuse some of these moments with a comedic touch – necessary to lighten quite a heavy show.
Although viewed by many as a classic, Blood Brothers is not flawless. The score is repetitive and not overly memorable at first listen, with some moments lending themselves to be very overly dramatic – with such a strong cast as in this production, all of this becomes less of a problem. It is great to hear a live band, although in a couple of ensemble numbers the sound levels are not quite right meaning that we miss some of the lyrics, a particular shame in the clever social commentary of Miss Jones. Kids Game is also hard to follow for this reason – with such strong accents being used, it is really important for these sound levels to be right.
It is a long musical with some drawn-out scenes but arguably the most important moment in the show (Mrs Lyons’ proposition to Mrs Johnstone that she should take one of her babies) seems to pop up out of nowhere and is resolved and glossed over very quickly. This leaves any actress playing Mrs Lyons quite the unenviable task of trying to make her well-rounded out of the scraps of text given to her – in this production, Paula Tappenden more than rises to the occasion and compliments Paul’s Mrs Johnstone. Aside from some of the problems with Willy Russell’s book, at times it really does offer a commentary on the UK class divide that is still biting – none more so than in the Policeman scene (pitched perfectly by Paul Westwood). We walk away from the performance not just being entertained and moved but questioning the equality of the society we still live in.
Led by a fantastic cast that ground their performances in truth, this production of Blood Brothers is, just like the heavily referenced Marilyn Monroe, heartbreakingly unforgettable.
Blood Brothers is on at the Theatre Royal Brighton until February the 8th. Tickets available here - https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/blood-brothers/theatre-royal-brighton/
The show will continue its tour in Richmond, before going to Woking, Edinburgh and ending in Glasgow. Dates, times and tickets for these shows are available here - https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/blood-brothers-tickets/