I doubt that there is any such thing as the perfect musical but in my book this is about as close as it gets. I saw it a few years ago before I set up this website and I was impressed then but I was blown away by last night’s performance.
Speaking to other reviewers who have seen the show several times I got the impression that this was the optimal cast, the bigger names who had taken part in previous productions being somewhat of a letdown. The moral of this tale is that you really need to go see it now!
The piece was written by Willie Russell and works on so many levels. It is the story of twin boys; Mickey, played by Sean Jones, and Eddie, Jay Worley. Their mother, known only as Mrs Johnstone and portrayed by Niki Colwell Evans, already has several children and lives in poverty in a Liverpool slum where the most regular visitors are debt collectors and repo men. She has got a cleaning/housekeeping job with Mrs Lyons, Paula Tappenden, the wife of a rich industrialist, who is unable to have children and so she persuades Mrs Johnstone to part with one of the twins. She reluctantly agrees to do this and so Mrs Lyons feigns pregnancy and, at birth, the boys are split.
Events conspire to throw the boys together, even though they live in different parts of town and in contrasting circumstances. Although unaware of their relationship they become best friends at the age of seven and go through a ritual to make them blood brothers, which, of course, they already are.
It is no spoiler to say that the whole thing ends tragically as the opening scene shows the bodies of the pair being removed from the scene. It would be more of a spoiler if I related the plots which found them there, so I won’t. It is not often that you get a musical thriller, unless you’re Michael Jackson, but this is one such.
Last week I was bemoaning the fact that children were playing the parts of adults in Bugsy Malone, this week it is the turn of adults to take the roles of children to facilitate the story of the development of the boys, and their friends. I must say that this system works far better than the last. Probably because the adult actors were once children whereas the kids have never been grown-ups. The comedy was also more mature in nature, although the childlike idiosyncrasies were spot on.
The love interest, Linda, played by Carly Burns, and Sammy, the wayward older brother, Timothy Lucas, were also outstanding. In fact it seems churlish to pick out any of the players as there was not a duff one amongst them. Having said that, Tim Churchill who multitasked as Mr Lyons and the Johnstone’s milkman, brought the house down when he examined Mrs J and said that he had swapped jobs and was now her gynaecologist.
The story was revealed through the use of a narrator, the superb Richard Munday, whose dialogue was spoken entirely in verse. Despite several of the actors hailing from different parts of the UK, I found the Scouse accents to be spot on, but so they should be in a show written by a Liverpudlian and co-directed by another, Bob Tomson, and Bill Kenwright, the Chairman of Everton Football Club. Speaking of which, that particular team’s name is daubed on a brick wall at the back of the set, which I assume is as both a bit of free publicity as well as an indication that the action is set in a Catholic area of the City, where, due to the ban on birth control, the families tend to be larger. The other constant was a back projection of the Liver Building which I loved.
The set was raised and lowered from the fly tower although in some scenes the exterior was left on one part of the stage whilst the interior was set up in a smaller section. This didn’t detract one bit from the effect as the story was so compelling that you couldn’t take your eyes off the action. Except for the dozy woman sitting next to me who decided to do a bit of texting as her attention span seemed to be of similar duration to that of a mackerel. A ‘polite’ word from yours truly caused the cover of the offending telegraphic instrument to be snapped shut. Bless!
This being a musical, and about Liverpool, you would expect the soundtrack to be amazing, and it didn’t disappoint. I was seated towards the back of the stalls so needed to shuffle about for a few seconds – apologies to whomever was behind me, but in recompense I got the numpty with the mobile phone to turn it off – in order to see whether the music was live or recorded, it was so good. The band, under the Musical Direction of Matt Malone on keyboard, and Assistant Musical Director Julian Alexander, also on keyboard, comprised Ben Fletcher, guitar, Glenn Muscroft, bass, Jon Hooper, drums and Richard Wimpenny on soprano and alto saxophone. Superb.
The singing, dancing and acting, which ranged from high comedy to the depiction of the effects of prescribed drug use could not have been bettered. The thespian who covered the gamut was Sean Jones who has made this part his own over the years but has now decided to call it a day after this tour. He will be a great loss as his energy and enthusiasm as well as his grasp of pathos, will be hard to replace.
I would have liked to have rambled on and praised this production even more but I want to get this article posted in order to get as many bums on seats as possible. Trust me, you will laugh, cry, and have the life frightened out of you, so, if you are within travelling distance of Leeds, please make the effort and take a trip to see this wonderful show. You will thank me, unless you get the seat next to that night’s moron with the phone.
Blood Brothers runs until 10th September. For more details and to buy your tickets please go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/blood-brothers-2022/
Feature image provided by Leeds Grand Theatre. All photographs by Jack Merriman provided by Leeds Grand Theatre.