Ovations and tears ride the years

 Blood Brothers

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

*****

BILL Kenwright's production of Willy Russell's Blood Brothers is a well-loved, funny but heart-rending musical which has graced the stage for 25 years.  It is still passionately received by sell-out audiences and closes to standing ovations night on night. 

Opening night's flawless performance was no different, with rapturous, lengthy applause and hardly a dry eye in the house. 

Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone with son Mickey, played by Sean Jones

Under the musical direction of Kelvin Towse, Russell's songs Marilyn Monroe and Shoes upon the Table weave the show together and Niki Evans' climatic, heartbreaking Tell Me It's Not True is overwhelming. 

Set in Merseyside in the 60s, the show opens with a dark sense of foreboding as two bodies are taken away. ‘Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone brothers?' asks the narrator Craig Price.  The tale unfolds.   

Niki Evans is superb as the torn and loving mother, Mrs  Johnstone, abandoned by her husband for a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, with seven children; pregnant again with twins.  How will she manage to feed two more mouths and keep the debt collectors from the door?  A deal is struck with her wealthy, childless employer, Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer) and the boys are parted.  The real fear of the consequences of superstition should the boys ever find out their true relationship prevents them from ever realising their true relationship.  “Don't you know that twins secretly separated at birth will surely die if the truth is ever revealed to them?” 

The gripping story of the twin brothers Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Paul Davies), living lives that are poles apart. Mickey underprivileged and Eddie advantaged, but destiny always bringing them back together over the years, becoming the best of friends, indeed becoming blood brothers, never knowing of their sibling relationship until their tragic early demise.   

Most of all the show is fun, funny and laugh out loud in many places.  Jones and Davies are remarkable in their portrayal of the brothers at seven, through teenage years to adulthood. To see Jones's transformation from the young, runny-nosed Mickey with his faithful (but invisible) horse forever at his side, to the hopeless, depressed and drug-dependent adult is tremendous. Price, the ever-present, brooding voice of conscience is hauntingly memorable.

 At times positively overwhelming, the show is truly entertaining.  The huge standing ovation speaks for itself.

Lynda Ford

And on the other side of the tracks

(or at least the aisle) . . . .

***** 

IT'S back with a bang, and Willy Russell's brilliant musical about twin boys separated at birth is as dramatic and emotional as ever on its 25th anniversary.

The audiences have returned in big numbers, too, and it is one of the most moving theatre experiences you can get to see virtually everyone in the auditorium rise at the tear-jerking finale to give the cast a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.

Niki Evans has the lead role of the tragic Mrs Johnstone who, struggling to cope with her large family when her husband walks out, reluctantly agrees to give one of her new-born twins to the wealthy, childless woman she cleans for.

Since she came fourth in X-Factor four years ago, her voice has matured noticeably, and her delivery of Tell Me It's Not True after the heart-stopping shoot-out is memorable.

Sean Jones is superb as stay-at-home twin, Mickey, destined for a tough upbringing while his brother, Eddie, enjoys the benefits of living in a posh area of Liverpool and a private education. Paul Davies gives a fine performance as Eddie, with Kelly-anne Gower impressive in the role of Linda, the girl both lads fall for with unfortunate

consequences.

Craig Price plays the Narrator with real menace as he stalks the stage, Graham Martin, the policeman and teacher, is a real hoot and Tracy Spencer proves a convincing Mrs Lyons, Eddie's new 'mother'.

Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, with Kelvin Towse's musical direction, Blood Brothers runs to Saturday night 19-02-11.

Paul Marston 

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