Reviewed by Demi Franks
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“So, did y’ hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each other as two new pins…”
I mean if you haven’t…where have you been!?
Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers seems to have been around forever, be that in the West End, touring or internationally for over 30 years and yet still maintains it’s huge magnetic pull, attracting repeated audiences and new ones alike.
Set in 1960’s Liverpool, Blood Brothers is the all engrossing and poignant tale of the Johnstone twins, ‘Mickey’ (Josh Capper) and ‘Eddie’ (Joel Benedict), who are painstaking separated at birth, by their struggling single mother Mrs Johnstone (Nikki Evans). Whilst one is given away to Mrs. Lyons (Paula Tappenden), the other is kept, highlighting just how different growing up on the opposite side of the class system can be. This story sees the coming together of love, friendship, social circumstances, superstition, destiny and their fateful consequences…
It’s now the middle of February 2022, and yet again we are still reminded of the ‘fateful’ consequences and uncertainty of making theatre in a pandemic, as for this evening’s performance there were a couple of last minute on the day cast changes, with Mickey being played by Josh Capper and Sammy by Pete Washington. It has to be said whilst both did a fantastic job fitting into the company seamlessly, special kudos must go to Capper for not only stepping into one of musical theatre’s most iconic shoes to keep the show alive, but also managing to do it successfully with the style, verve and charisma that is needed to pull off the role of Mickey.
Setting the scene of down-trodden council estate 1960’s Liverpool, we see the ensemble cast flourish. In particular Tim Churchill’s hilarious turn as the ‘Milkman’ and quick change to the ‘Gynaecologist’ is a crowd pleaser. It’s these scenes that light up the stage, beautifully juxtaposed and offsetting the audience for what’s to come later. Musically the ensemble numbers are really enjoyable and allows for a welcome escape, with ‘Kids’ Game’ and ‘Bright New Day’ being two of the highlights.
Malone’s band are faultless and the score provides some great songs. Mrs Johnstone (Nikki Evans) has the best of them, her beautifully rich, empathetic voice is perfect for the role and we feel all her emotions through it, particularly with her powerful rendition of the iconic ‘Tell Me its Not True,’ which is a show stand-out and devastates the whole auditorium.
Whilst Tomson’s production is sharp, slick and polished, with all aspects of the production extremely well crafted and excellently brought together, one could argue that this production is pretty much a carbon copy of the countless Bill Kenwright productions that have come before it and doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. But the question is does it need to? After all there’s a reason Blood Brothers has stood the test of time both in the UK and internationally. It’s longevity is due to the grit and soul at the heart of the show, which however many times you watch it, is still there posing the same relevant questions about the same prevalent collective issues; be that the social class system or mental heath. This production still remains punchy, laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.
The ultimate standing ovation show, Blood Brothers has a bit of something for everyone. Whether you’ve seen it 10 times or you’re a first timer, Russell’s long standing smash-hit classic certainly makes for a wonderfully entertaining evening at the theatre.
Blood Brother’s runs at the Palace theatre, Manchester until Saturday 26th February tickets available here.