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Blood Brothers – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Writer: Willy Russell

Director: Bill Kenwright & Bob Tomson

Reviewer: Laura Stimpson


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

As like each other as two new pins,

How was one kept and one given away,

How they were born, and they died on the self same day?”

What is great about Blood Brothers is its simplicity, it doesn’t have any gimmicks, special effects or flying cars, the appeal of this production is the raw emotion of the music and storyline and its unique ability to make you laugh one minute and cry the next.

Set in Liverpool in the 1960’s a young mother, Mrs Johnstone (Niki Evans) struggles to bring up her children in poor financial times. When she finds herself pregnant with twins, and without a husband she decides to give one of her twins to her employer Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer) who cannot have children. We follow the lives of the twins, Mickey (Sean Jones) is poor and stays with Mrs Johnstone, whereas Eddie (Chris Carswell) has a very privileged upbringing with the Lyons family. As much as the parents try to keep them apart, Mickey and Eddie make friends and become ‘Blood Brothers’. The story of their growing friendship is fun and enchanting and the youngsters brings the stage to life with the song ‘Kid’s game’ Act two takes us to a darker place as the young characters grow up, demonstrating the harsh truths of the class system Mickey is forced in to crime when he loses his job and Linda becomes pregnant, while Eddie is a carefree University student partying hard and enjoying his life, their parallel lives could not be further apart.

The music is wonderful and very clever, throughout the performance there are only a handful of songs and recurring motifs that are repeated with different words. The songs are well written and arranged to portray different themes and emotions, for example the tragic, signature tune “Tell me it’s not true” is arranged as an upbeat waltz during a funfair scene.

The set designed by Andy Walmsley is functional and sets the scenes well without being overly complex. The lighting designed by Mark Howett works well to portray the many shifts of emotion throughout the show. At times the singing is over produced meaning some of the words are lost, there is a lot of delay, echo and reverb, with an abundance of great vocal talent in the cast it’s a shame that the raw vocal talent isn’t given the chance to shine through.

Niki Evans is phenomenal as Mrs Johnstone, her strong, gritty voice and convincing command of the scouse accent make her perfect in this rôle. She gives a highly emotional performance of “Tell me it’s not true” at the end of the show, harrowing and beautiful. Sean Jones as Mickey and Chris Carswell as Eddie work well together, they are both perfect for their parts and play the young characters really well. Sean Jones proves he can play more than just an adorable, cheeky child as his character grows older and follows a darker plot he is equally as comfortable in this serious rôle.

This production of Blood Brothers is a beautifully crafted, magnificent show packed with memorable songs, raw emotion, and an incredible leading lady.

Runs until Saturday 23rd July

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