Blood Brothers

 

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Blood Brothers is one of those shows which some might think is a standard touring musical, a staple for theatre-goers everywhere. However, Blood Brothers is embarking on its 30th Anniversary tour for a reason, it has stood the test of time for over 3 decades and its themes of class, money and love are as relevant as ever.

Written and composed by Willy Russell the man behind Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers’ first audiences were school children. He wanted to make sure that he hooked the children sitting in the back row of the class and Blood Brothers certainly does that. The show was soon picked up for a short run in the West End and thus began its epic journey to becoming the theatrical juggernaut it is today.

Blood Brothers tells the tragic tale of the Johnstone twins, two brothers separated at birth. Their mother Mrs Johnstone (Linzi Hateley) struggling with mounting debt and the need to feed seven growing children, simply cannot afford to keep both of her babies. Enter Mrs Johnstone’s employer Mrs Lyons (played convincingly by Paula Tappenden); Mrs Lyons cannot have children and the pain is etched on her face. In a fateful deal, Mrs Johnstone gives away one child (Joel Benedict as Edward) and keeps the other (Mickey, played by Alexander Patmore).

The play opens, as many great plays do (think Phantom of the Opera), with the ending. From the beginning, we know how it will play out and this adds to the sense of foreboding and tragedy. Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) asks us to make up our own minds – does Mrs Johnstone have a stone in place of her heart? Scotcher is ever present; he is our slightly menacing moral compass, questioning the characters’ decisions and reminding us of their inevitable fates.

The brothers continue to meet, drawn together by fate and across the class divide which will eventually tear them apart. Time is moved swiftly and effectively on by Scotcher and we see Mickey and Eddie grow up and become young men, albeit with very different lives and opportunities.

Russell’s aim was for the music to be woven into the story and the songs and musical patterns weave themselves throughout the narrative. The soundscape is dramatic and occasionally builds up to a crescendo loud enough to make the audience wince along with the drama. Stand out songs include Tell me it’s not true and Marilyn Monroe.

Andy Walmsley’s set design is simple but effective. The claustrophobic feel of the Liverpool slums and the contrasting bright feel of the Lyons’ living room take us back to the 1950s/60s but also show the class divide which runs throughout Blood Brothers.

The cast is fantastic and extremely hard working. Alexander Patmore’s Mickey is full of cheeky humour and grit. The scenes when Mickey (Patmore) and Eddie (Benedict) are children are stand out moments and take you back to playing out after school and not having a care in the world. Benedict is likeable as the naïve and privileged Eddie Lyons and the relationship between Mickey and Eddie is affectionate and deep. Linzi Hateley is strong as Mrs Johnstone; full of gumption and humour, you feel for the tough hand life has dealt her. Her character is the lynchpin of the play. Danielle Corlass’ character of Linda is caught in the middle of the class and brotherly divide; she is funny and well meaning.

Blood Brothers is a staple of musical theatre. Everyone should see it. It offers you an evening (or afternoon) filled with humour, tragedy, grit and will leave you feeling as though you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. Bring a handkerchief for those inevitable sniffles.

Blood Brothers is on at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 13th April.here.

 

Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the next two weeks, Blood Brother’s remains as deeply moving and powerfully relevant as ever.

Willy Russell’s award-winning epic tale tells the tragic story of twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited by a twist of fate, a mother haunted by a dark secret and the heart-breaking reality of social depression. As they boys grow up on opposite side of the track the draw the timeless themes of inequality, social class and mental health struggles remain sadly as relevant today as the day it was written. Despite the though subject matter, Blood Brothers is by far one of the wittiest scripts of any musical with laugh out loud moments perfectly measured against the heartache.

Taking on the lead role is Lyn Paul, who first stepped into Mrs Johnstone’s shoes back in 1997 when she made her musical theatre debut in the West End production. She makes for a compelling and impressive Mrs Johnstone, with a depth of emotion that tugs on your heart strings, making you feel every ounce of her heartfelt pain.

Matthew Craig is exceptional as the ever-present and ominous narrator, a dark and menacing reminder of the shady deeds of the mother’s pact; he has a strong and foreboding presence on stage. With just the right amount of Scouse rasp his harmonies with Lyn Paul are simply beautiful.

Veterans of their respective roles as ill-fated twins Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson captivate the audience with performances that will have you howling with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next. Sean Jones gives a masterclass in character acting, lighting up the stay as care-free young Mickey making the journey he goes on, to broken and defeated young man in Act II all the more devastating.

The ensemble cast are impressively strong, delivering Willy Russell’s witty script with fresh energy as they take on multiple roles with gusto. Special mention must go to Sarah Jane Buckley, Danielle Corlass and Daniel Taylor who each shine as Mrs Lyons, Linda and Sammy respectively.

Blood Brothers has the ability to take you on a roller coaster of emotion from joyful highs to heart aching lows. The tear filled finale one of the most moving fifteen minutes of any musical, repeatedly followed night after night by a full standing ovation, a testament to the enduring appeal of this powerful production.

It is a story that will stay with you long after the final curtain, a timeless classic which no doubts cements Will Russell as one of Britain’s best loved and most talented storytellers. It is a show that appeals to all ages from eager school groups to audiences returning for the second, third, fourth visit and more, each and every audience member stunned into silence. The phrase ‘must-see’ is often banded about but in the case of Blood Brothers it is entirely true, a powerful, captivating and entirely moving production.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th May rickets available here.

Shirley Valentine

Shirley

It’s an incredible 30 years since playwright Willy Russel introduced the world to Shirley Valentine and what better way to celebrate than to bring her out of the kitchen for an anniversary tour.

The play which has travelled the world winning a string of awards as well as being made into a film starring Pauline Collins which earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award nominations is as iconic as the Liver Birds. 40 something Shirley is trapped, drowning in a life which has lost all its spark, where the most important job she has is getting her husband’s tea on the table and her best conversations are with the kitchen wall. Downtrodden and deflated Shirley is tired with what life has become until one day out of the blue she’s offered the opportunity to inject some adventure, in the form of 2 weeks in Greece with her single pal Jane.

Shirley 3

Taking on the role of Shirley in this one woman piece, is Jodie Prenger, she finds the warmth and humour within as she delivers a heart-warming and gratifying performance. Possessing all the grit, determination, humour and vulnerability of the Shirley we all know and love as well as ramping up the humour with her skilful and entertaining depiction of the various characters which inhibit Shirley’s world. She glides with ease from one character to the next, breathing fresh life into the pages of Russel’s much loved work. Prenger is a force to be reckoned with, commanding the full attention of a packed out Lowry theatre, she delivers a wholly believable and deeply touching performance, audience laughter is closely followed by thoughtful reflection as Prenger finds the true heart of Shirley as her desperation for more becomes painfully clear.

Shirley 1

Russel’s familiar themes of loneliness and inequality are just as relevant today as they were when he originally penned Shirley. His writing is sharp and poignant, offering humour, depth and a fine understanding of the way many women see the world. Director Glen Walford makes great use of the material allowing Prenger to take this piece and really make it shine. Designer Amy Yardley’s kitchen set in Act I is impressive, allowing Shirley to cook up her chips and egg without missing a beat of the mighty monologue she delivers.

This is a fun, feel-good and thought-provoking production which like Shirley really gains momentum when our heroine chases her dream and starts to really live. A wonderful revival, which will make audiences fall in love with Shirley all over again.

On at The Lowry until Saturday tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/shirley-valentine

Shirley Valentine 2017 tour

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In celebration of Shirley Valentine’s 30th Anniversary, Willy Russell’s heart-warming comedy will embark on a UK tour in 2017, arriving at The Lowry on Monday 19th until Saturday 24th June, starring fans favourite, actress Jodie Prenger as our Shirley.

Undoubtedly one of the UK’s most successful playwrights, Russell’s award-winning work including Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out and Shirley Valentine has been performed all over the world. Talking about the new tour Russell says; “It’s now thirty years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award Nominations.”

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Talking about the reasons for deciding to take Shirley on tour now on her 30th anniversary, Russell explained, “The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now! When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?”

No stranger to the theatre having appeared in numerous West End productions, UK tours as well as being a regular on our TV screens and radios, Prenger will no doubt relish the challenge of bringing to life such a beloved and treasured character, warm, witty and at times achingly vulnerable, Jodie is the perfect choice for the role.

The tour will be directed by Glen Walford who directed the original production and produced by Adam Spiegel Productions (Motown, The Last Tango, The Producers, Dance ‘Til Dawn, Midnight Tango, Love Me Tender, The Mousetrap on Tour). Tickets are on sale now via the link below

http://www.thelowry.com/event/shirley-valentine