Coming of age to a musical

Blood Brothers

Birmingham Hippodrome

***** 

There are some shows that you become aware of without realising it, one hears of them almost by a form of osmosis.  

You hear the names regularly slipped into conversations to the point that when you do go and see them, they seem oddly familiar to you; like an old friend that you see in the street but can't quite place. 

Blood Brothers is one of those shows.  For some reason I distinctly remember the first time I had heard of it. 

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

It was the first week of university, longer ago than I care to think about, and during one of the many exchanges where people were trying to appear considerably more cultured than they would, after another year and many pints, turn out to be.

And yet on this occasion for a brief second amongst the pseudo-intellectual witterings of other people I was struck by the passion with which my soon to be new friend talked of the show, as though he was himself invested in it.

 I continued to hear of the show now and again as it relentlessly toured but, it was only last night, as it celebrates its 25th year, that I realised why he felt that way.

Willy Russell's Blood Brothers is a powerful play or should I say musical.   So often with musicals the dialogue stops and starts to accommodate the contrived songs, making the piece clunky and awkward.

With Blood Brothers the songs are so well fitted to the piece and the dialogue so sharp you almost forget that they are set to music.

 The set changes are slick and use the actors to great effect to give a good pace to the piece.  It is a fast moving show and yet there are moments where  time seems to stop as emotional moments are played out with a deftness of touch and sensitivity that is as powerful as it is unexpected.

The story revolves around two brothers and the kismet that both separates and bonds them forever.  As is a sign of things to come the opening is gentle but powerful, a sign of things to come.  Robbie Scotcher as the narrator is omnipresent, subtly overseeing proceedings from a variety of positions on the set, he is the conscience of the piece and acts a an effective bridge between audience and cast, in a commanding performance. 

Former X-factor contestant Niki Evans plays Mrs. Johnstone very well, managing to portray the hopelessness of her situation with a sensitivity and a warmth that allows the audience to really connect and genuinely like and feel for her. 

Mrs Johnstone faces the future tormented by the narrator as she makes her tragic choice

The use of the adult actors playing their child selves is not noticeable at all such is the quality of both the acting and the dialogue, which is salty and on occasion literally spat out such is its realism.  The scenes between the brothers Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Paul Davies respectively are touching and powerful. 

Indeed both actors manage to shift their portrayal with the time-line of the piece very well, with the journey from young scamps to full grown and ultimately troubled men, a gradual but engrossing one.

The supporting cast are also very good with Kelly-Anne Gower, playing the pivotal role of Linda, and Graham Martin in a succession of small but endlessly entertaining roles, standing out.  

Ultimately the play is about a number of things, from the nature v nurture debate to the grip of the class system on society.  It is a true roller coaster of emotions, you will laugh and you will cry (I'm not ashamed to admit it) and you will become more invested in it than you thought possible;.but most importantly it will get you thinking and that's never a bad thing.

Willy Russell once said that he may not have written the best musical ever but he's written the best last five minutes of a musical, from last nights showing it is hard for this reviewer to disagree.

As an aside I would like to send my best wishes to the audience member who collapsed from a suspected Angina attack and say that the theatre staff were excellent in their handling of a difficult situation.  To 23-10-10

Christian Clarke 

 

Twin thoughts . . .

*****

Oh brother! This stunning Willy Russell musical is back in the Midlands with its emotional recipe of drama, love, heartbreak and joy - not necessarily in that order.

And also making a very happy return to the theatre is Tamworth's Niki Evans, in the role of the remarkable Mrs Johnstone who, deserted by her husband and with too many mouths to feed, agrees to give one of her newborn twins to her employer, a childless lady from the posh end of Liverpool.

She made her theatre debut here in the part two years ago, receiving so many acclaimed reviews she was transferred to the West End version by producer Bill Kenwright.

Niki is perfect as mother-of-seven Mrs Johnstone who is warned that, should the twins ever discover what happened to them at birth, they would both die. How she copes with all the trials and tribulations in a working class district is amazing.

HARDLY A DRY EYE

And iafter the dramatic shoot-out finale, she sings Tell Me It's Not True with such passion there is hardly a dry eye in the house.

This is a musical that has a strong fan base. People return again and again to see it and are never disappointed.

It's not all sadness, of course. There are some wonderfully funny moments....like when a bewigged judge is seen to get over excited behind a white sheet when he fancies busty Mrs J during a hearing and likens her to Marilyn Monroe.

Graham Martin is brilliant as the local bobby and teacher - especially when, in the twinkle of an eye, he switches from a private school scene to an unruly local authority classroom.

A superb performance, too, from Sean Jones as Mickey, the twin who stays with his mum, and outstanding contributions from Robbie Scotcher, the sinister Narrator, Paul Davies, the give-away twin Eddie, Tracey Spencer (Mrs Lyons, who takes Eddie as her own), and Kelly-Anne Gower, playing Linda, the local girl whose love for both young men eventually leads to tragedy.

Kelvin Towse is musical director of the show which earns the usual standing ovations. It runs to October 23 and shouldn't be missed.

Paul Marston 

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