A musical still of our times

 Blood Brothers

Malvern Theatres

****

NEARLY three decades on from its creation, Blood Brothers still packs a punch as one of the most provocative and emotional musicals in theatre.

Willy Russell's gripping, edgy story about twin brothers in Liverpool, separated at birth to grow up in polar ends of the class system, is as much about personal decisions and hardships as the effect of the economy on human lives.

Not only has this poignant story and the catchy musical score stood the test of time, but it's success is also due to maintaining a strong, talented small cast over the years.

The main celebrity name is attached to the lead role of Mrs Johnstone - the twins' down-and-out mother who lives a life mainly in debt or anguish - which this time around is Maureen Nolan, once of the Nolan sisters. 

She takes on the role that has previously been played by not only her sister Linda Nolan but also Kiki Dee, Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm and Barbara Dickson, to name a few. She's got a good voice but a couple of the songs don't seem ideal for her range, like Easy Terms.

It's eerie just how relevant many of the scenes are to today's recession-hit Britain, particularly during the song Miss Jones, when we see husbands being handed redundancy slips and left queuing for the dole. Then there are other themes of opportunities on offer for large single-parent families on benefits, and addiction to anti-depressants. All in all, it's hard to believe this wasn't written just last week.

But along with the sadder elements of this story, it is always well-balanced with plenty of humour. Scenes when the brothers are growing up through childhood and adolescence (also played by the adult actors) are fun and particularly charming.

Narrator Kristofer Harding deserves a mention for looming over the proceedings with menace along with a wonderful voice, while brothers Mickey and Eddie are acted out with feeling by Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson.

Blood Brothers is a timeless, very British musical. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do now. To 25-01-14.

Alison Brinkworth 

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