What is it about Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers that keeps bringing audiences back time after time? Last night at the Churchill Theatre, I saw the show for the third time; for my mum, it was the fifth. And as on every other occasion, as the final scene came to an end, the (mostly sobbing) audience rose as one to our feet in a standing ovation that went on for several minutes.
So what is the enduring appeal of this show, which ran for over 20 years in the West End and has toured the UK several times? And why, when we know how the story ends, and that it’s going to reduce us all to emotional wrecks, do we keep putting ourselves through it?
The Johnstone twins are separated at birth when their mother, unable to afford to keep them both, agrees to give one away to her wealthy employer, Mrs Lyons, who can’t have children of her own. But what seems to be an ideal arrangement soon turns sour; though fate keeps throwing the boys together, their lives ultimately take very different paths – and then converge again, with tragic results.
It’s a classic nature versus nurture tale, but with characters we grow to really care about, because we literally watch them grow up on stage; in a lovely twist, the same actors play the twins at age 7, 14 and throughout their teenage years into adulthood. And so, having laughed and cried with them as they’ve played, fought and fallen in love, it’s no wonder the finale – as predictable as it is – hits us like a punch in the stomach every time.
As a musical, Blood Brothers is quite unusual, reprising the same few melodies throughout the show, but changing the lyrics to move the story along. And yet there are a few stand-out numbers – Tell Me It’s Not True, of course, but also the wistful love song, I’m Not Saying a Word, and the incredibly atmospheric Easy Terms (seriously, the harmonies give me shivers every time).
Funnily enough, it’s not only audiences who keep coming back to the show: Lyn Paul has played Mrs Johnstone countless times, and slips back into the emotionally demanding role so smoothly it’s as if she’s never been away. Sean Jones, who’s been Mickey in the West End and on tour, has the audience eating out of his hand from the moment he first gallops onto stage in his shorts and hand-me-down jumper. And Kristofer Harding makes a welcome return to the role of the Narrator, in a more sympathetic portrayal than some I’ve seen (he’s certainly a lot less intense than his predecessor Marti Pellow).
Blood Brothers is a classic; there’s no doubt about that. It has everything you need in a musical – tears, laughter, great music, a gripping story and appealing characters, not to mention a final scene that wrings you out and leaves you as emotionally exhausted as the actors. This might have been my third visit, but I don’t think it’ll be the last.
Review by Liz Dyer
Blood Brothers Overview
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.
Few musicals have received quite such acclaim as the multi-award winning Blood Brothers. Bill Kenwright’s production surpassed 10,000 performances in London’s West End, one of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone. It has been affectionately christened the ‘Standing Ovation Musical’, as inevitably it “brings the audience cheering to its feet and roaring its approval” (The Daily Mail).
Lyn Paul returns to the iconic role she has played many times in the West End, in fact she was the show’s final Mrs Johnstone when it closed at The Phoenix Theatre in 2012. Lyn also starred in Bill Kenwright’s tour of Cabaret with Will Young in 2013 and rose to fame as a member of the pop group New Seekers whose numerous number one hits include ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ which sold over 20 million copies.
The superb score includes Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged hit Tell Me It’s Not True.
BLOOD BROTHERS – SPRING 2016 TOUR DATES
Monday 22nd – Saturday 27th February 2016
Box Office: 0844 871 7620
Bromley, Churchill Theatre
Tuesday 1st – Saturday 5th March 2016
Box Office: 0844 871 3020
Oxford, New Theatre
Monday 7th – Saturday 12th March 2016
Box Office: 0845 127 2190
Buxton, Opera House
Tuesday 22nd – Saturday 27th March 2016
Box Office: 0844 871 3023
Torquay, Princess Theatre
Monday 28th March – Saturday 2nd April 2016
Box Office: 0844 848 2700
Leeds Grand Theatre
Tuesday 5th – Saturday 9th April 2016
Box Office: 0844 856 1111
Blackpool, Opera House
Monday 11th – Saturday 16th April 2016
Box Office: 01494 512000
High Wycombe, Swan Theatre
Further dates to be announced