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Maureen Nolan: Blood Brothers - 2013

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The Reviews

 

 

2014

You'll have heard the story of the Johnstone twins...

But whether you will have seen Willy Russell’s timeless classic played out quite as powerfully, I’m not so sure.

It was something of a return to this small theatre - Kiki Dee who first played Mrs Johnstone in 1987 starred when it was last here too long ago for anyone to remember - but what a comeback it was.

The tale - sadly - resonates as strongly as it ever did; but the consequences of the scouse housewife’s decision to off load one of her offspring to stop the bailiffs banging on the door were more emotional and dramatic than ever.

Of course it was due to the performances of those involved.

Maureen Nolan, though still in the mood for ‘dancin’’, portrays the pain and pathos of the struggling mum as well as any before her and, having marvellously mastered the Liverpool accent, weaves in the wit with ease.
It is hard to imagine how Sean Jones manages to breathe new life into the character of Mickey he has played so well, so often, but every time I marvel at his skill in making an audience believe he is a super-spitting seven year old, a love-shy teenager or a pill-paralysed prisoner.

And while it took a few minutes to get used to Kristofer Harding’s not-quite-so-sinister portrayal of the narrator, he soon won me over with calm and assured story-telling, and a singing voice as meaningful and moving.

As always, the audience were reaching for their hankies to wipe away tears of laughter as quickly as they were mopping away those of sadness.

But what made this performance so spectacular was the intimacy of this small suburban theatre which brought everything so much more vibrantly to life, whether it was the echoing and haunting refrains of well known tunes like Easy Street and Tell Me It’s Not True, or the feeling of being more closely involved with the action on stage.

There was laughter, there were tears and there was a very well-deserved standing ovation.


Janet Tansley – Liverpool Echo - St Helens

 

NOW in its third decade, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers has been a smash success story on an artistic level - but with the added bonus of also being a box-office hit.

In this touring production, casting Wet Wet Wet's Marti Pellow is another clever trick to snare an audience (especially on home turf in Glasgow). As the spectral Narrator, the Clydebank crooner highlights the themes of superstition and, thankfully, the score dictates there are no overly long sustained notes for him (something that featured too prominently in his summer gigs with the Wets).

Maureen Nolan is the other draw. She is the fourth Nolan sister to play the heartbreaking role of Mrs Johnstone - a piece of musical theatre trivia that has made the Guinness Book of World Records.

Her performance builds nicely in Act One, but it is in the final chilling moments of this modern tragedy that her acting really hits home.

This gritty kitchen-sink drama also provides one of those rare things, a complicated female character whose choices determine the plot (doubly rare for more mature female actors).

The Johnstone twins (the Blood Brothers of the piece) provide the laughs and then, cleverly, the pathos. Sean Jones is an expert Mickey, morphing from an exuberant seven-year-old boy into a drug-addicted ex-con. Jones has previously played the part in London's West End, and this contrasts with the fact that Joel Benedict, trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is making his professional debut as "fortuitous" twin brother Eddie.

The playing out of their brotherly bond - Shakespearean in its scope, with more than just a nod to Greek tragedy - makes the drama come alive. The fact it has mass appeal is likely to assure many more years on the worldwide stage.

Marianne Gunn – The Herald/Scotland - Glasgow

 

LIVE theatre just doesn’t get any better than this.

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers is the tragic tale of twin boys born into poverty but one saved from a life of drudgery by an illegal adoption.

From the beginning, their fate was already sealed. But how their lives unravelled was played out with great poignancy.

The heartbreaking story of a single mum who is forced to give away one of her twin babies to make ends meet was all too common just a few decades ago.

The two boys duly meet as children, then teenagers, never imagining the blood brothers vow they took as youngsters was far closer to the truth than either ever imagined.

The piece stirs up conflicting emotions of pity then hate for the adoptive mum thanks to the acting talents of actress Kate Jarman. But this entire cast is truly exceptional.

Marti Pellow returns to his role of narrator, an omnipotent spectre who serves as a constant reminder this story will not end well. Pellow mastered the guttural Liverpool tones perfectly but unless you tune in completely some of the dialogue could be lost.

When you ask two grown men to play seven-year-old boys it could be akin to Jimmy Krankie doing musicals.

But when Mickey, played by the immensely talented Sean Jones, takes to the stage, he IS a seven-year-old boy.

Mickey’s downward spiral is played out as his brother Eddie – Joel Benedict in his impressive first professional role – is on the ascendancy.

And Jones’ transformation from the cheeky, awkward youth to the man with no future is a superb piece of acting. But this wondrous piece would fall short without a strong, matriarchal Mrs Johnstone.

And Maureen Nolan, the fourth of the singing sisters to play the role, is breathtakingly good.

Her voice, as you would expect, is pitch-perfect, but it is her warmth as the conflicted mum that reaches out to the audience.

And only the hardest of hearts could avoid a tear or two as they empathise with her agony as the musical ends. Her Tell Me It’s Not True number crackles with raw emotion as her sons’ story reaches its conclusion.

The show is set in Liverpool and while it has a tragic message, it also has an abundance of Scouse humour to perk you up before delivering the blow to twist your guts.

It may not be the traditional feel-good musical but you will certainly feel your life has been touched by this production.

Vivienne Aitken – Daily Record - Glasgow

 

2013

A gripping story, the catchiest songs and a charismatic cast getting the audience to its feet in one of the most enthusiastic ovations I've seen.
Les Mis might be the musical of the moment but Blood Brothers, showing at The Everyman this week, should be up there with the all time musical greats.

After more than 10,000 performances the piece, which started life as a small affair to be played in school halls, has now closed in the West End but luckily this deep yet sparklingly funny show lives on in an outstanding production now touring the country.

After twins are separated at birth, one growing up on a council estate and the other receiving private school luxury the other side of the park, the drama delves into big themes from nature, nurture and class to whether maternal love or materialism makes the better parent.

Sean Jones is hilarious then moving as mischievous Mickey whose grubby-kneed, red-Indian playing childhood ends too soon as he learns the harsh realities of life on the dole.

Mark Hutchinson is also more quietly impressive as Edward who, despite wishing he could swear and get his clothes dirty like his friend, reaps the rewards of being middle class until romance and his past catch up with him too.

Mighty-voiced Maureen Nolan is radiant as the mother who has a wealth of love in her heart although she can't find enough pennies in her purse to keep the bailiffs away.

But it's the top quality of the whole cast which made last night's opening performance so good and their chemistry and and evident love for the show are infectious.

Meaty enough to have made it an exam piece yet also both laugh-out-loud funny and tear-jerking, Blood Brothers is as fresh and relevant as it was 30 years ago when Willy Russell (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine), a former hairdresser with one O'level, put pen to paper.

One of the main questions it asks is what's the price for our actions and is it worth paying. A ticket for this run at The Everyman is definitely worth it: go – if you've never seen it before or if you've been half a dozen times as this has got to be among the best yet and, if last night's audience is anything to go by, is sure to leave you singing its numbers all the way home.

Annabel Brittain – This Is Gloucestershire - Cheltenham

 

 

2012

As she took her final bows to the standing ovation in Milton Keynes Theatre last night, Niki Evans looked emotionally exhausted.

The actress had just given an incredible performance as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, in a show which left the audience feeling similar to how she looked.

Powerful, thought-provoking and funny, Willy Russell’s musical is as relevant today as it was 28 years ago when it premiered in Liverpool.

For the uninitiated, Blood Brothers tells the story of twins separated at birth, one who is raised by a wealthy family and the other by a single working-class mother.

Twists of fate cause their paths to cross time and again, until a dramatic and devastating climax.

Evans was joined by the fantastic Marti Pellow as the narrator, whose strong stage presence even when he was lurking in the shadows served to remind the audience of the darker elements of the play, and delivered the important messages of the show.

The brothers, Sean Jones (Mickey) and Jorden Bird, (Eddie), were frighteningly convincing in every scene, from their entrance as seven-year-olds (nearly eight!), through their teenage years and development into men.

The transformation of Jones from an innocent, warm young boy filled with life and energy, into a down-trodden man old before his time, broken by years in prison, his dependence on anti-depressants and the harsh realities of life, is done with devastating effect.

While the characters of Mickey and Eddie could easily slip into stereotypes of the hard-done by working class lad and spoilt upper class toff, the spirit both actors bring to the parts mean the audience can’t help but fall for them.

Despite their different upbringings, the bond between them and the cheeky traits they share is obvious, and Jones and Bird created very convincing, real, characters.

Of course the musical numbers were as crucial as the acting, and they did not disappoint.

The sound and lighting team should also be commended, as they helped build the fantastic atmosphere throughout the show, and particularly in the thrilling scene with Shoes Upon the Table/Madman, which set audience members’ hearts racing as the action built to the final explosion.

Blood Brothers is a play everyone should watch - you won’t be able to stop thinking about it once you’ve seen it - and it doesn’t get much better than this production at Milton Keynes Theatre.

Connie Primmer - Luton Today - Milton Keynes

 

LOVE was all around Marti Pellow at The Mayflower last night as he took to the stage as the narrator in Blood Brothers.

The Wet Wet Wet frontman’s deep and powerful voice swept the audience through the emotionally-charged story of twins who although separated at birth grew up side by side living parallel lives of rags and riches.

Sean Jones energetically springs across the stage riding an imaginary horse, showing childlike imagination and enthusiasm before he makes the transition into adulthood with great talent as the show progresses.

Niki Evans plays the twins’ mother, Mrs Johnstone, in a way any mother could relate to, with knowing glances to the audience during songs such as Marilyn Monroe in one of the initial scenes, as she shows off her impressive acting and vocal skills.

Willy Russell’s story of class and situation is still as powerful 28 years on, and feels current with its economic background including scenes of mass unemployment and working people’s downfall, which many will identify with today.

Director Bob Tomson, who has been with the show 25 years and was unusually taking a seat in the crowd, said he was most proud of the fact thousands of people who are “allergic to musicals” have been touched by it and helped open the story to a whole new audience.

All in all, the talent of the actors mixed with the strength of the script makes for a highly enjoyable show that will have you crying – at times from laughter and others sadness.

Rebecca Pearson -  Southern Daily Echo - Plymouth

 

Blood Brothers really is the musical you can see again and again, with ever increasing returns.

Willy Russell’s modern masterpiece simply gets better and better – thanks here to Niki Evans who absolutely nails the role of Mrs Johnstone, the tragic, impoverished, Liverpudlian mum driven by desperation to seal a pact with the devil.

Pregnant yet again, she consents to her new twins being separated at birth, the one fated to stay with her in the rough end of town, the other given away to grow up in the lap of (relative) luxury – a secret deal with devastating consequences for all concerned.

The brilliance of the musical is that we begin with the ending – and then sit back for the story to unfurl until we end with the beginning. But however much you know it’s coming, the impact is huge as the cheeky, jokey first half gives way to the darkness of the second.

Nature runs into nurture and class does battle with superstition in a tale which packs the most powerful of punches. Yes, it’s a show which quite deliberately sets out to tug at your heart strings– but it would take the hardest of hearts to resist it.

At the core of the show is a terrific performance from Sean Jones as Mickey, the twin who stays behind. Jones goes from exuberant, upbeat, irrepressible kid to shattered, drugged-up, broken man in a remarkable, compelling and utterly convincing transformation.

Olivia Sloyan as his girlfriend/wife Linda beautifully conveys the human cost as all those youthful hopes and dreams are crushed.

Holding it all together, Marti Pellow cuts an imposing figure as the narrator – though just occasionally you find yourself wishing for a greater clarity with the delivery. After all, it’s the narrator who gets some of best lines in a show jam-packed with wit and genuine pathos. Just at the moment, Pellow is not quite wringing out every last drop – a minor quibble amid the wider painful pleasures of seeing Mrs J and her offspring hurtle towards their doom.

 

Phil Hewitt – Chichester Observer - Chichester

 

2009

Never before have I seen a domino row of hardened critics rise to give a spontaneous standing ovation. Yet this is what they — we — did, along with a rapt and tearful audience, for the gloriously recast Blood Brothers, now celebrating its 21st year in the West End.

The show has suddenly become quite wonderful, and the galvanising factor is the terrific stage debut of Melanie C, previously known as the Spice Girl who could actually sing. I last caught Blood Brothers three years ago, in the middle of a seemingly interminable run of Nolan sisters in the headline role of Mrs Johnstone. Willy Russell’s book, music and lyrics were impassioned, but overall the piece didn’t wear its near three-hour running time particularly lightly.

Now, with the former Spice taking her place on merit rather than reputation to lead an impressively committed cast, it rings out as a rich, detailed and desperately moving piece of work.

The story is probably over-familiar. We’re in Liverpool some time before decimalisation, where struggling single mother Mrs Johnstone (Mel C) agrees to hand over one of her newborn twins to her rich, childless employer Mrs Lyons (Vivienne Carlyle). The boys, Mickey and Eddie (Stephen Palfreman and Richard Reynard), lead parallel lives separated by the great economic divide. A narrator hovers on the edges of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s action, giving a foreboding sense that the iron fist of fate is clenched over it all.

Those expecting chorus lines and show tunes will be disappointed, as Russell concentrates instead on two penetrating musical leitmotifs. The first, Shoes upon the Table, signals superstition and bad luck. The other is Mrs Johnstone’s recurring theme, and uses the heyday and decline of her idol Marilyn Monroe to mirror her own fortunes.

Mel C delicately captures every changing tone, from teenage joy to adult resignation. The range she manages on Easy Terms, a doleful hymn to the “never-never”, is equally admirable.

If we already knew she could sing, we might not have guessed she’d prove this adept at acting.

Yet the arc she traces as the indomitable matriarch is strong and sure, with her climactic anguish so evidently felt that it’s almost unwatchable. If it carries on like this, Blood Brothers could run for another 21 years.

FIONA MOUNTFORD – THE LONDON EVENING STANDARD (NOV 09) - WEST END


Take a bow, Sporty Spice. Melanie C, always the most talented of the Spice Girls, is making her theatrical debut in Willy Russell’s stirring musical, now celebrating 21 years in the West End. She is absolutely sensational.

At 35, she is probably too young to be playing Mrs Johnstone, the impoverished Liverpool housewife with an absconding husband, seven hungry mouths to feed and twins on the way, especially since in the course of the show she watches her two youngest boys grow to man’s estate. Indeed, by the end, one of her sons looks older than she is.

It’s a mark of her strength and confidence that this doesn’t matter a jot. Melanie C (as she still calls herself) gives one of those performances that grips with its emotional truth from the start and never loosens its grip. In every scene she seems to be living spontaneously in the moment, she sings with superb power and feeling, and ranges from warm comedy to the bitter depths of anguish.

The mixture of weariness and warm affection with which she regards her children is palpable throughout (earlier this year Melanie C gave birth to her own first child). And at the end, with her twin sons lying dead before her (I’m not giving the plot away – Russell reveals his show’s tragic destination at the start), her face is a clenched mask of grief as she sings the climactic anthem with a power and bitterness that sends shivers racing down the spine.

It must be 15 years since I last saw Blood Brothers, but Bill Kenwright’s production remains fresh and intense and leaves no doubt that the show belongs among the greats of British musical theatre, right up there with Billy Elliot (to which with its gritty working-class subject matter and pop-rock score it seems precursor), Oliver! and Phantom of the Opera.

The amazing thing is that Russell didn’t just write the books but the sharp lyrics and powerful music, too, having begun his life moonlighting as a pub and club singer-songwriter while also working as a ladies’ hairdresser. (No wonder he’s so good at getting under the skin of his female characters – he must have heard all their secrets while cutting and crimping!) With such a superb catalogue of first-rate popular theatre behind him that also includes Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, it is desperately sad that his creative well appears to have run dry in recent years.

Blood Brothers’ ability to combine comedy and tragedy, great songs with a searching examination of both the nature-vs-nurture debate and the malign role of class in British society strikes me as remarkable. So, too, is its evocation of childhood, and the performances of Stephen Palfreman and Richard Reynard as the twin brothers separated at birth are outstanding.
If you haven’t been to Blood Brothers before, make it a priority. If you have, you will need no further encouragement from me to see it again with Melanie C now in such glorious form.

CHARLES SPENCER – THE TELEGRAPH (NOV 09)


The good may die young everywhere else, but in the West End longevity is undoubtedly a sign of virtue.  Happily, this column   has an admirable record when it comes to spotting productions that will stand the test of time and, for that matter, the ones that have the shadow of death hanging over them.
I recall, for instance, some tuttering among my fellow critics when I gave Wicked five stars, but with it still playing to packed houses at the Apollo Victoria three years on, I feel vindicated.  By the same token, I was first to read the last rights to Too Close To The Sun, the Ernest Hemingway musical which ran for all of two weeks.

One could go on, but it isn’t done to brag.  One is tempted to reproduce some of the churlish review Blood Brothers when it opened 21 years ago (1984), but as it celebrates its anniversary and the former Spice girl Melanie C joins the cast, it isn’t done either to mock.

Willy Russell’s musical, has however the timeless themes that are always the hallmarks of an enduring success. It is the story of Liverpudlian twins separated at birth; one is adopted by a well-heeled family and goes on to university and glittering prizes; the other stays with mum and ends up on a council estate, unemployed and drug-addicted.  They are reunited with tragic consequences when they fall in love with the same girl.

It is about family, love, growing older, the ludicrousness of class and money, doing the right thing and becoming a fully fledged human being.  One was, of course, scarcely out of short trousers when the musical opened during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and what is wonderful about it is that it has kept its dynamism all these years on.

Too often shows that bed into theatres for long runs start to look like tired, understudied, musty, commoditised and complacent hokum – one thinks of an unhappy outing a year or tow ago to Bill Elliot – but Blood Brothers has just had a shot in the arm courtesy of Mel C.  She is the first genuine scouser to play Mrs Johnstone, the mother who has to give up one of her twins to adoption, and she proves a revelation: the girl can act as well as sing.

She recognizes that this is no star but that she is part of an ensemble: this allows her to achieve with her badboy son Mickey (Stephen Palfreman) and Eddie (Richard Reynard) as the son she has to give up.

Top marks to the directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright for keeping this much loved play in such fine fettle. All in all it was like being reunited with an old lover and realising the trill is still there.

TIM WALKER – THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (NOV 09)

 

Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers' which sails into the Lyric from the Liverpool Playhouse, is brilliant melodrama. Indeed it owes less to the modern British musical than to The Corsican Brothers or The Force Of Destiny. But it is melodrama done with such power, such intense belief in itself and, above all, such a wealth of good music, that it carries one along with it in almost unreserved enjoyment.

The achingly romantic songs...tell of grief and loss rather than the usual musical trivialities.

Many of these fall to Barbara Dickson as the mother, a riven figure in a headscarf rendering the lyrics with stunning clarity.

But there is good work from the whole cast, including Andrew Schofield as the hawk-like chorus and George Costigan as the deprived Mickey.

MICHAEL BILLINGTON - THE GUARDIAN

A Knockout - 20 years On

When Willy Russell's musical paid its only visit to Bath, in June 1984, tickets were hard to sell because, despite winning awards in London the year before it was relatively unknown. Even the dubious attraction of former world boxing champion John Conteh in the cast did not bring the crowds flocking.

But, more than twenty years on, such is the enduring appeal of the work that there was standing room only at this week's first night. In fact by the end of the performance most of those sitting were also on their feet - applauding.

This comic/tragic tale of twins separated at birth when their mother gives one away to her posh employer has matured with age particularly in the slickness of presentation.

Linda Nolan gives an emotional performance as the desperate mother and the strongest musical moments come in her harmonies with Keith Burns as narrator.

Sean Jones and Drew Ashton are well cast as the brothers, first as seven year olds and moving through to ill-fated adulthood in convincing style and Linzi Matthews is the ideal foil as Linda, the girl they both love.

ALAN KING - Bristol Evening Post

 

Black cats, shoes on the table, a lone magpie, a smashed mirror; if these things make you feel uneasy then you will love Blood Brothers.

The opening line "Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone brothers?" makes the audience inquisitive from the start, and what a story it is.

The Johnstone brothers, Mickey and Eddie, are Blood Brothers in every sense. It is a story of an impoverished mother who reluctantly gives away one of her twin boys to live a privileged life with a well-to-do lady who can't have kids herself.

But it is really the story of the threat of a curse, if the twins ever meet and find out that they are brothers, they will both die. A story centred around the bonds of human nature, between mothers and children, brothers and lovers.

Set against the backdrop of '60s Liverpool, with "Everton" and "Linda 4 Eddie IDST" written on the red brick terraced walls, and the lights of the liver birds building twinkling in the background. The script and sets encapsulate the dichotomy of rich and poor.

Playwright Willy Russell, of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine fame, once again captures both humour and emotion. His 'salt of the earth' and 'down to earth' way of writing endears him to just about everybody and the audience instantly empathize with his characters.

Blood Brothers is no exception, from the moment the mother starts her first song, to the climax of the play when the twins lie dead, the audience hang on his every line; a storyline that captures the passion of the people of Liverpool, the wit of "our kid" and 'real' dialogue. These characters are believable and immediately likeable.

The actors playing the kids growing up to be adults have a tricky job on their hands, but successfully pull it off. We see the twins (the Blood Brothers) at various ages: eight, 14 then 18.

Both Sean Jones (Mickey) and Drew Ashton (Eddie) are thoroughly convincing at every age. From over enthusiastic nippers to young adults, swapping sweets for porn mags and substituting free time for hard toil and work.

Other great performances come from Linzi Matthews as she transforms from cheeky Linda, saucy Linda to long suffering wife Linda, and Barry Sloane who is fantastically believable as dysfunctional adolescent Sammy.

But the actress holding the play together is Rebecca Storm who plays Mrs Johnstone. Her acting and singing are faultless and this evening she is most definitely the matriarch of Blood Brothers.

The songs, including 'Marilyn Monroe', 'Easy Terms' and 'Shoes upon the Table', are as touching as the script. Russell frequently repeats sections of the songs throughout the show rather like a rock opera.

Blood Brothers is a musical that would appeal to anybody, even those sceptics who aren't superstitious.

Blood Brothers runs at The Lyceum in Sheffield between Monday, 24 February and Saturday 5 February, 2005.

ALI DAVIES - BBC South Yorkshire Online/Sheffield Lyceum

 

TWENTY-ONE years after its debut, Willy Russell's musical tale of love, laughter, tears and tragedy has lost none of its power or pathos - as an unrelenting standing ovation which almost took the roof off the Empire Theatre can attest.

The story of the poor but loving working class mother, Mrs Johnstone (Barbara Dickson), who is forced by poverty to give up one of her twins to her manipulative rich employer, Mrs Lyons (Karen Barnes), is still passionate.

Yet a wicked sense of humour, marvellously hummable songs belted out by a top-class orchestra, an outstanding ensemble cast of strong characters, slick direction and fluid set changes ensure that there is plenty of sweetness to go with the sour as the action fairly zips along with a solid self-assuredness.

Stinging themes of class, poverty, superstition, and ultimate tragedy are still as potent as they were when Russell first penned them.

Barbara Dickson is mesmerising as she returns to reprise the role of Mrs Johnstone - one she originally made famous - provoking real sympathy for her plight she makes the transition between care-free young girl to care-worn, anxious mother seamless.

Her husky and amazingly powerful voice giving added resonance and heart to songs like Easy Terms and Bright New Day and had the hairs on the back of the audience's neck stand up with a rousing version of Tell Me It's Not True.

Liverpool-born Keith Burns appears as the Narrator - the unrelenting voice of fate/doom that the audience comes to dread almost as much as Mrs Johnstone and the conniving Mrs Lyons (Karen Barnes).

The boys themselves, played by a brilliantly amusing Sean Jones (Mickey) and sweetly straight-laced Drew Ashton (Eddie) throughout their lives, are both superb, especially in the first act playing children of seven (nearly eight).

The scene in which the boys become blood brothers is still a tremendously powerful one, the visual image of the boys emphasising the difference between them as well as their obviously unbreakable bond.

They are totally believable and a joy to watch, capturing childlike innocence and humour effortlessly.

This emotional investment makes the body blow to the audience all the more potent as they are forced to watch as the harsh realities of life and fate conspire to crush and destroy the twins as adults.

Blood Brothers is as powerfully bitter-sweet now as it ever was.

GAIL CAMPBELL-THOMSON - Liverpool Daily Post

 

After a three-year absence Blood Brothers has made a triumphal return to the Bristol Hippodrome and a full house gave it a genuine standing ovation.

The fact that musical director Richard Beadle allowed the orchestra to be a little too dominant at times and sound engineer Ben Harrison often 'cranked up' narrator Keith Burns' heavily 'scouse' accented voice so high it became indistinct made no difference to this principally young audience. They just adored Keith's powerful sexy delivery and appearance.

There is humour, especially when Sean Jones and John Cusworth portray the doomed twins Mickey and Eddie when they were young school boys. And from Nikki Davis-Jones as she tries to educate the boys in the ways of adults.

But compared to many previous productions Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's production is heavily weighted on the dramatic side of the tragic tale. This gives Linda Nolan and Kim Bretton every chance to wring the last drop of pathos and pain out of the roles of the two mothers. It's a challenge they rose to very readily in a production full of raw power and deep emotion.

GERRY PARKER - Bristol Evening Post

A dramatic production, be it a play, an opera, a ballet or a musical succeeds when it connects with and moves an audience. At The Empire last night a full cast fully connected with a full house, to such an extent it ended in a standing ovation with several members of the audience literally in tears.

Blood Brothers tragic story of twin brothers separated at birth whose lives and loves are linked through a friendship formed in childhood innocence but challenged by the class divide. The twins grow up on Merseyside, one in abject poverty, the other - given away to an infertile rich couple - with all the upper middle class trapping's wealth and privilege can bring.

One envies the other and their blood brother relationship - the fact that they are twins - only emerges when it is too late, with tragic results. The performance last night struck a combination of chords so much in tune with the collective sensibilities of the audience it had to be seen to be believed.

There was laughter, as well as tears, sympathy with and empathy for the characters, excellently portrayed by each individual performer. The musical score was superb, the scenery sensational and the story line so, so powerful.

And throughout it all there was one constant; the twins natural mother Mrs Johnstone, played by Linda Nolan, whose stunning performance provided the strong thread that linked all the component parts.

If there is one musical at The Empire you must see this year, it is this one. It is, quite simply, the best musical I have ever seen in my home city.

PATRICK LAVELLE - Sunderland Echo


If there is a more moving story in London right now than Willy Russell's tremendous epic of Liverpool life, I wish you'd lead me to it. For shining all the way through his big, gutsy musical Russell manages to instill the magic ingredients missing from most of the West End blockbusters-decency, humanity-and almost unbearable pathos.

Stephanie Lawrence is a wonderful revelation. Whether bawling out her brood or reflecting quietly on the body blows life has dealt her, she ditches all the glamour she is known for and is sheer magic in the part. Then there's the voice...from the haunting Marilyn Monroe to that anthem of grief Tell Me It's Not True, this extraordinary powerhouse of musical energy spills over the footlights and into the hearts and minds of the audience. There is not a dry eye in the house.

Carl Wayne, ex-lead singer of the Move, is the second surprise. As the sardonic Narrator he is judge and jury of the impending tragedy and the chiseled cheek bones stare impassively through the highs and lows of the unfolding lives. The chilling Shoes Upon the Table is sung with power and frightening intensity...and then reprised through the show as the years roll by. Macho and mesmerizing, he is the Greek Chorus on the Mersey.
It opened in the West End several years ago, but there was no sign at the Regent last night that this marvellous show, arguably the best British musical since Oliver!, has lost any of its power to move.

Playwright Willy Russell is a shrewd observer of working class foibles with a genius for dialogue that can move audiences to laughter and tears. With this musical he proved himself a songsmith of equal stature. Melodramatic it may be, but this simple moral tale of a destitute Liverpudlian mum who gives away one of her new-born boy twins to a wealthy, childless woman packs a massive emotional punch.

In a series of co-incidences worthy of a Shakespeare plot, the lives of the two boys are spookily intertwined. Although growing up on the opposite sides of the social divide, they become best of friends, ritual blood brothers, and eventually fall for the same girl. Neither knows, until it is too late, the other is his brother.

Observed by Keith Burns' sinister narrator, the two boys' progress from seven year olds playing cowboys and indians to teenagers wrestling with acne and adolescence is brilliantly captured by Christopher Warburton as Mickey, the cheeky scouse scallywag, and Daniel Fine as the well-spoken public schoolboy Eddie. Their earlier scenes - before class distinctions drive them apart - together and with their friend Linda, (a sweet and touching performance from Nikki Davis-Jones) crackle with comic energy.

On a versatile set, two rows of terraced houses and a skyline dominated by the famous Liver Building, the whole cast sing and act with tremendous gusto. At the centre of the drama is the gentle, stoical Mrs. Johnstone. As played by Denise Nolan, she is no downtrodden martyr, but a proud woman who wants nothing more than a few bob in her purse and a decent roof over her children's head. With her strong voice, she can sing in a whisper and the audience hangs on every word, and as the final tragedy unfolds, her resilience finally broken, she delivers the famous closing song "Tell Me It's Not True" with raw, heart-rending intensity.

An outstanding performance in an unmissable show.

JAMES HAYWARD - Ipswich Evening News

I envy anyone who has a ticket for 'Blood Brothers' during it's run at the Mayflower. The musical is one of the best shows that I have seen for a long time. Blood Brothers is not one of those shows where you know all the words to all of the songs and have seen the ending a thousand times, but that makes it all the more entertaining.

Set in Liverpool. the Willy Russell musical tells the tragic tale of twin brothers who were separated at birth and brought up in very different ways. They meet up and become the best of friends, despite their mothers best efforts to keep them apart for fear of the consequences. Sean Jones and Daniel fine are fantastic as twins Mickey and Eddie, and did a wonderful job of making the audience believe they were only seven years old during part of the production. I'm sure most people forgot, like I did, they were watching two grown men playing cowboys and Indians.

Denise Nolan is perfect as Mickey's long suffering mother and has found a far better platform to showcase her talents than her sister Coleen, who was last seen presenting ITV's 'This Morning' A special mention must go to Adam Watkiss whose amazing voice kept reminding the audience of the shows ominous climax in his role as Narrator. Blood Brothers has everything, while dealing with a very serious and harrowing issue, it manages to keep you in stitches of laughter throughout and there was hardly a dry eye in the house as the show reached it end. It may be one of the lesser known musicals, but Blood Brothers has certainly become one of my favourites.

EMMA BARNETT - Southampton Daily Echo


Willy Russell is a playwright who divides opinion. For many he's one of Britain's leading lights; For others he's merely a peddler of trite, sentimental, one-theme nonsense.

For those who last month who visited the Hippodrome to see Russell's near legendary Blood Brothers, you get the impression he is definitely the former rather than the latter. The story of twins separated at birth who grow up in different social circumstances only to find their lives are inextricably and tragically linked, Blood Brothers is a play with music and one that has been pulling at the heartstrings of its legion of fans for almost more years than anyone cares to remember.

This latest production is, of course, little changed from previous incarnations - it'd be folly to meddle with a winning formula, after all - and is presented by a cast who clearly have an enormous passion for their work. And even after all these years, the show remains impressively charged with energy.

With Denise Nolan excellent in the pivotal role of Mrs. Johnstone and Adam Watkiss performing admirably as the narrator, Blood Brothers makes for as powerful an evening of theatre as it has ever done.

PETER JOSHUA - Birmingham

 

By all rights, Willy Russell's "Blood Brothers" shouldn't work. A contemporary prince-and-pauper musical tragedy set in Liverpool, it's overlong by a fourth, boasts two songs worth a damn, no dancing, grown actors playing children, shuddery portents of doom, rhyming verse monologues and enough shmaltz to keep the Carnegie Deli in chopped liver well into the next century. It also wipes me away, without fail, every time.

Judging from the damp Kleenex count in the audience by the curtain call, I'm in good company. Regrettably, new audiences cannot revel in departed British cast members Stephanie Lawrence, Mark Michael Hutchinson and Con O'Neill, whose vivid performances camouflaged a multitude of blemishes. There are a number of consolations in the revised cast, not the least of whom is Petula Clark, who makes her Broadway debut in thrilling vocal form as a working-class mother who gives away one of her twin baby sons to a wealthy housewife out of economic necessity. Clark's dramatic range has always been somewhat limited, but she throws herself body and soul into the part with ultimately affecting results.

The gimmick of casting real-life brothers Shaun and David Cassidy as the. brothers Johnstone garners mixed rewards. If Shaun is no great shakes as a youngster, he grows in credibility as the privileged brother ages. David, by contrast, is a gutsy revelation as the poor but plucky Mickey, navigating the path from exuberant youth to depressed adulthood with a depth of feeling we never knew he had in him. The price of David Cassidy's hard-earned maturity is that it makes us feel oh-so old. Whenever Petula Clark sings with that precious Surrey lilt, however, we're younger than springtime.

New York Times

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