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Blood Brothers at New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

It naturally follows, I suppose, that a show set in Liverpool produced by the chairman of Everton Football Club should have a most unsubtle reference to it appearing on set on several occasions.

Niki Evans in Blood Brothers- UK Tour- Past Production Image
Niki Evans in Blood Brothers- UK Tour- Past Production Image.

Blood Brothers retains a lot of emotional depth, even if, from time to time, it comes very close to melodrama. But I wonder whether that’s because it’s one of those shows that reveals the ending right at the start, before spending the rest of the evening explaining how on earth the ending came about.

It’s best seen with an open mind, and going in ‘blind’, without having gone out of one’s way to read up about it beforehand. When I finally saw it during its long West End run, I went along to make up numbers in a group booking. Take tissues, they said – you’re going to need them. It’s a very sad tale, they said. In fact, they said everything they could to make me think it was going to be a horrid and miserable evening. No wonder I didn’t enjoy it very much, and thought little of it when it finally posted closing notices at the Phoenix Theatre, having been there for over two decades.

This time around it came across to me as a commentary on British society – and despite having premiered in 1983, it remains highly relevant to how things still largely are almost forty years later, which seems a damning indictment on the supposedly more enlightened and progressive times in which we live. I suspect this is a contributor to its enduring popularity. It’s also not all doom and gloom, although the Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) is relentless in reminding others, particularly Mrs Johnstone (Niki Evans) and Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden), of the consequences of their actions.

The Narrator’s accusations are, through contemporary lenses, harsh treatment on the ladies by a man who appears to have nothing better to do than blame the women for ignorance and poor decision-making. Without giving too much away, what happened was really a result of complicated psychological and physiological circumstances as well as economic necessities, rather than rash stupidity. Rightly, the narrative allows moments of fun and laughter, as Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Joel Benedict) are seen going from infancy to adulthood, and everything that growing up entails.

The approach taken to portraying mental ill-health and how it was treated a generation ago highlights how far there is still to go. It’s not a perfect production – the synthesisers are a little overkill on occasion, and there are frankly too many references to Marilyn Monroe, which I didn’t think added much, if anything, to the story: seeing schoolchildren getting a ticking off by the police, back in the days when there were ‘bobbies on the beat’, does not bring to mind a Hollywood ‘blonde bombshell’ character.

Speaking of schoolchildren, I can only assume the play is still on the GCSE drama and/or English literature curriculums, given how many of them were there at the performance I attended. And, goodness me, this production has a strong cast, though looking through the credits in the programme, many of them are reprising roles from the West End run and/or touring productions. Of particular note (in my mind, at least) is Tappenden’s Mrs Lyons, who could have been a ‘love to hate’ character, but is portrayed here with such nuance that there is some sympathy for her plight.

A deserved standing ovation for an engaging show, and with slick and smooth staging, it’s still worth a visit, whether you’ve seen it dozens of times before, or not at all.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Written by Willy Russell, the legendary BLOOD BROTHERS tells the captivating and moving tale of twins who, separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences.

Blood Brothers is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 8th February, 2022 to Saturday 12th February, 2022.

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Tue 15 Feb – Sat 26 Feb 2022

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Tue 5 Apr – Sat 9 Apr 2022

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Tue 30 Aug – Sat 3 Sep 2022

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