With a West End revival that spanned two decades Blood Brothers is the third longest-running musical production in West End history, and if the packed-out opening night audience at the Wolverhampton Grand were anything to go by then this nationally touring production proves that the seminal Willy Russell classic is as loved today as it ever was.
Based around the 'nature vs. nurture' theory it follows the lives of twins Mickey Johnstone and Eddie Lyons who although separated at birth and unaware of the other’s existence, find their lives dramatically linked – much to the dismay of their biological and Eddie’s adoptive mother, and with tragic consequences.
Sean Jones and Joel Benedict as Mickey and Eddie respectively were truly superb, and transitioned through time and circumstance from childhood friends to bitter rivals effortlessly. Benedict’s Eddie was naïve and charming, but with just enough cheekiness throughout to keep him interesting and engaging. In beautiful but stark contrast Jones’ Mickey surfed a huge character arc playing each stage with candour and accuracy, particularly in the more challenging later scenes - with spectacular characterisation to observe.
A special mention but go too to Danielle Corlass as Linda - complementing the leading men she was a delight to watch and played a brilliant girl-next-door: a particular highlight to look out for being I’m Not Saying A Word, where the audience are able to fall just as much in love with her as the boys themselves.
Having previously played the role on West End, Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone gave a good performance but appeared to lose focus and stumble on some lines and vocals, causing a nearby audience member to question loudly in Act 1 whether she was at full health - perhaps if this were the case then that control would have made her performance less erratic and more sincere.
And although an obvious audience favourite, Marti Pellow as Narrator skulked purposefully in omniscient shadow for most scenes but never quite straddled the fine line balance of breaking the fourth wall to invite the audience in and being party to the action. He also (understandably) struggled at times with the necessary Liverpudlian accent, making his diction difficult to understand and lyrics sometimes inaudible.
A similarly admirable turn by Paula Tappenden as Eddie’s adopted mother also sadly felt underdeveloped – although her Stepford housewife routine and vocals were perfected, we saw only glimpses of her opportunistic and manipulative streak with Mrs J and Eddie, with her descent into madness also lacking conviction.
Throughout the movement and set changes were swiftly executed by the company and moved the narrative along nicely; the band also sounded great, providing great pace for storytelling too. The set was brilliantly utilised by all of the cast, and made for interesting backdrops for some of the more static scenes.
Altogether a very mixed-bag with a few too many falters and squandered potential to forgive a professional touring production. However, that said with a critical eye, it was still very well received and even garnered a standing ovation and a number of curtain calls – if you’re a fan of the show try and get along to make the judgement for yourself.
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