Blood Brothers first came to the stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome by accident in 1995 when a run of another show was cancelled at the last minute. And what a very happy accident that was. Willy Russell’s story has captivated audiences ever since, and this latest production is no exception.
The story is beautifully simple; Liverpudlian twins Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Joel Benedict) are separated at birth because their working class mother (Lyn Paul) can only afford to feed one more mouth. Mickey grows up in hardship with his mother and siblings while Eddie is raised in a wealthy family nearby and the two find each other by chance and become best friends, their lives taking different but intertwined paths.
Lyn Paul has owned the role of Mrs Johnstone since she first played it nearly 20 years ago. You can’t help wondering exactly how many performances that equates to - from the way she effortlessly belts out the numbers you’d guess several thousand, but by the raw emotion she displays you’d think it was her first.
Near the start of the story Mrs Johnstone announces she’s pregnant (again) with the twins - a bit of an eyebrow raiser when she looks more like Mary Berry than mum-to-be. But the truth is it really doesn’t matter; Paul has adapted to play a Mrs Johnstone you feel is taking you back to tell you the story. She is quite simply masterful; a delight to watch - good luck to whoever follows in her footsteps when she does finally call it a day.
Sean Jones and Joel Benedict impress as the protagonists; Jones is particularly striking as Mickey - making a believable and saddening descent from a loveable childhood scamp into an increasingly bedraggled and tragic figure. Meanwhile life is much better for Eddie who goes to a nice school while Mickey struggles at his, who gives Mickey his sweets when he has none, and who goes to university just as Mickey gets and then loses his first dead-end job.
Russell’s story might have debuted more than 30 years ago, when a second Thatcher government had just been elected and the gap between the poor and the rich had widened significantly, but this exploration of nature versus nurture is every bit as relevant and poignant today as it was then.
As the plot works its way to a tragic conclusion the action is narrated with gravitas by a crooning Dean Chisnall, who helps the story along at a lovely pace.
Elsewhere there’s strong support from Danielle Corlass as Linda, the simple girl who unwittingly gets caught in the middle of this tale of woe and Sarah Jane Buckley as the tortured Mrs Lyons, who all but forces Mrs Johnstone to give her Eddie and is forced to live with it every day.
The final iconic number, Tell Me It's Not True, left barely a dry eye in the house and not a single person on their seat.
Blood Brothers is a tragic and immensely poignant exploration of how a person's life is shaped by the circumstances they are born into. Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s beautiful and moving production does Russell’s enduring story justice, and then some.
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