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Blood Brothers at Churchill Theatre | Review

When Willy Russell wrote Blood Brothers back in the early 80s, I’m sure he didn’t think that it would still be performed over forty years later and it would be on the Drama GCSE curriculum which is why the audience at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley was full of teenagers revelling in the strength and power of Russell’s play with music. It’s a story of twins separated by circumstance at birth – a tale of nurture or nature which in the case of this magnificent piece of theatre, comes down hard on the side of nurture. It’s ironic that Blood Brothers which is now on the school curriculum, started out as a play to be seen in schools.

Timothy Lucas as Sammy and Sean Jones as Micky.
Timothy Lucas as Sammy and Sean Jones as Micky.

Blood Brothers tells the story of Mrs Johnson whose husband has left her pregnant and impoverished, living in a Liverpool slum with seven mouths to feed. It turns out that she’s now expecting twins and is at her wit’s end. Working as a cleaner for the Lyons, a rich but childless couple, in a Faustian pact Mrs Johnstone secretly arranges that Mrs Lyons will adopt one of the twins and that she can never see her child again. Desperate she agrees and gives away Eddie one of her twin sons although she agonises over her decision but realises, she has no choice.

This is almost a Shakespearian tale (he loved separating twins) and also has Biblical undertones (good versus evil) and there may even be a Greek myth in there too. The story is told by ‘The Narrator’ who is basically the Devil (his main song contains the line “The Devil’s got your number”), progressing the narrative but also pulling the strings, making sure that lives are going to be destroyed and it won’t end well – that’s not a spoiler alert as the show starts with the dramatic denouement and then goes back in time to explain how it all came to pass.

The night I went to see the show, Mrs Johnstone was played superbly by understudy Paula Tappenden but you wouldn’t have known it as with her almost operatic, contralto voice, she was superb. The Narrator was played with real menace and malevolence by Richard Munday who revels in the chaos he was bringing to good people’s lives. Eddie who’s the twin who was given away and has all the privileges that wealth brings, is sympathetically portrayed by Joe Slight. However, the true star of this production is Sean Jones as Mickey, the twin who stays with his birth mother and struggles in the environment he’s brought up in. Jones has played the role for a number of years and is a joy to watch as we see him age from 5 to 25 – from the cheeky little pretend cowboy-loving tot to adulthood and real life.

Blood Brothers is a joy from start to finish and even makes its very sad end (get your tissues ready) acceptable to the audience. They say the Devil has all the best songs but, in this case, they all go to Mrs Johnstone who has the show’s three hits, ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Easy Terms’ and of course the perennial ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’.

After over forty years Blood Brothers is still going strong bringing Willy Russell’s morality play to audiences of all ages. It doesn’t date and will probably still be going strong, forty years from now.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alan Fitter

This epic tale of Liverpool life started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981, before opening in its first version of the musical at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. The musical has since triumphed across the globe, completing sell-out seasons in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan, and scooping up four awards for Best Musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway.

Sean Jones (Mickey), Richard Munday (Narrator), Joe Sleight (Eddie), Paula Tappenden (Mrs Lyons), Olivia Sloyan (Linda), Timothy Lucas (Sammy), Tim Churchill (Mr Lyons), Nick Wilkes (Policeman/Teacher), Gemma Brodrick (Donna Marie/Miss Jones), Connor Bannister (Perkins), Josh Capper (Neighbour), Amy Murphy (Brenda) and Jacob Yolland (Bus Conductor).

Blood Brothers
Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Bristol Hippodrome
Tue 29 Aug – Sat 2 Sep 2023

Theatre Royal Brighton
Tue 3 Oct – Sat 7 Oct 2023

Full tour details

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