blood brothers head

Blood Brothers

Wolverhampton Grand

****

AN elite clutch of theatrical productions have a momentum of their own, selling out houses- because they do. Blood Brothers is obrothersne such production filling the Grand on a late autumnal Monday night.

The audience was encouragingly mixed with a strong younger element evidence that its appeal transcends the tribal cognoscenti of its era, and its themes attract across the generations.

The big names are Marti Pellow as the narrator, and Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone. The Nolan sisters have secured a virtual sisterly hegemony on the role, with Maureen the fourth sister to have worn Mrs Johnstone’s pinafore.

Danny Taylor as the violent Sammy with Sean Jones  as his younger brother Mickey

She plays her with warmth, energy, humour and pathos. Narrator Pellow watches from the shadows, as sinister as a Crocky chancer, but without the consistency of accent.

The role is fairly one dimensional with occasional undemanding harmony parts, he will be able to undertake his new year’s Wet Wet Wet gigs with no fear of exhaustion. His speaking parts are delivered as rhyming couplets in the tradition of the Chorus in Greek tragedy. And so it unfolds:

“So did y' hear the story

Of the Johnstone twins?

As like each other as two new pins

Of one womb born, on the self -same day,

How one was kept and one given away?”

The single street set is impressive and evocative of its era. Was the Everton slogan on the wall spray painted by Toffees chairman and show director Bill Kenwright himself? If not, at the very least, he will have allowed himself a smile.

Although Nolan and Pellow acquit themselves with credit, it is the supporting cast who shine. Sean Jones and Joel Benedict play the twins as children and young adults, a formidable task with huge, well-realised, comic possibilities. Danielle Corlass is delightfully leggy as the twins’ love interest and Paula Tappenden delivers an unhinged Mrs Lyons, the illegal adopting mother with compelling conviction.

The first act’s appeal is its faithful recreation of happy family life, soon to be destroyed:

“And who'd dare tell the lambs in Spring What fate the later seasons bring?”

The second act, which after an opening that on the night fizzled and crackled, rather than burned, shifts gears rapidly for its destructive climax.

Although a musical, it is the story and characterisation which are the stars. There is only one memorable song, Light Romance, sensitively sung by Maureen Nolan, the rest is incidental, Tell Me It’s Not True, the best known song, is little more than a repeated refrain. But the themes of brotherhood, adolescence, motherhood, and hard times are memorably created and exploited by author Willy Russell. Although proudly set in Liverpool, the bleak urban landscape will have been familiar to the Wolverhampton audience.

At the end, the narrator laments:

“Did you ever hear the story of the Johnstone twins?

As like each other as two new pins

How one was kept and one given away

How they were born, and they died,

On the self- same day”

A tragedy laid bare at the opening scene, which the rest of the play then leads up to. Yet on the way, the good humour, laughs and humanity of the story ensure that this is a tale of upliftment, rather than despair. Blood Brothers runs till Saturday 31st October.

Gary Longden

26-10-15 

And from the other side of the tracks . . .

****

IT’S back in the Black County yet again - the standing ovation musical so popular there will be near capacity audiences every night.

No matter how many times people see Willy Russell’s brilliant story they still come back for more to enjoy the humour and, of course, experience the drama of the tragic shoot-out finale.

Changes in the cast are rare, and even the wonderful role of Mrs Johnstone has become something of a family affair, with Maureen Nolan the fourth of the famous Nolan Sisters to play the part.

She is excellent as the hard-pressed Liverpool mother of seven trying to cope after her husband walks out for another woman he thinks looks a bit like Marilyn Monroe.

Mrs Johnstone agrees to give up one of her new born twin boys to her wealthy employer, Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden), who can’t have children of her own, but the lads accidently meet up when they are seven, become ‘blood brothers’, eventually fall in love with the same girl, and tragedy is on the horizon.

On opening night Maureen couldn’t hold back a fit of the giggles in the courtroom scene where a randy bewigged Judge fancies her and is unable to hide his excitement behind a white sheet, and later the audience are fighting back tears as she sings the emotional Tell Me It’s Not True.

West End and Broadway star Marti Pellow is a suitably menacing Narrator, stalking the stage, but I sometimes found it difficult to catch everything he was saying or singing in a heavy Scouse accent.

Sean Jones gives an extraordinary performance as Mickey, the twin who stays with his mum in the tough end of town. His ability to play the scruffy kid and later the depressed, redundant, pill-popping young man is outstanding, and Joel Benedict is convincing in the role of his brother, Eddie, brought up in the posh district and heading for a privileged life style.

Graham Martin is a hoot as the neighbourhood copper and his instant transformation from a cultured lecturer in a private school to a bullying secondary school teacher is a piece of theatre magic.

Other outstanding members of a fine cast are Danielle Corlass, the girlfriend, Linda, and Daniel Taylor, Mrs Johnstone’s loutish son, Sammy.

Directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, with Kelvin Towse’s musical direction, Blood Brothers runs to 31.10.15

Paul Marston  

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