Blood Brothers – Review – Leeds Grand

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Blood Brothers – Review

Leeds Grand, March 2016

by Sandra Callard

What more can be said about Willy Russell‘s massively successful, gritty musical, Blood Brothers? Can anything further be gleaned from this dramatic story? What can be learned about its heart-rending tale of Liverpool twins, parted at birth and fatally reunited as adults? It is currently touring, with Bill Kenwright producing and directing, and presently on stage at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. Let’s see how it’s faring in its 29th year?

Mrs Johnstone, played with guts and feeling by Lyn Paul, is an abandoned wife in working class Liverpool. She finds she is pregnant with twins after her husband’s callous departure. Already struggling with a growing family, she is persuaded to give one of the twins to her childless employer, Mrs Lyons. Sarah Hays plays her with convincing desperation. The moment where she looks into the pram to decide which baby to take is shocking in its appalling simplicity. The deal is done. We know there are going to be tragic consequences, because the narrator tells us. Kristofer Harding wields this role like the Sword of Damocles. He lurks in the background giving his deadly take on the proceedings. His ‘Shoes Upon the Table’ song sends out a palpable shiver of apprehension.

But it is not all doom and gloom as we watch the poverty stricken Johnstone family grow. The children’s roles are all taken by adults. It’s a difficult undertaking to pull off. Yet they do it with authentic childlike humour and movement. The role of the remaining twin, Mickey, is played by Sean Jones in an endearing and technically brilliant performance. His scruffy, mischievous, but resilient lad of seven, thrives at the age where poverty is just a word to him.

blood brothers leeds grand review


Mickey grows up, still joking and laughing, discovers girls and falls in love with Linda, a peerless performance by Danielle Corlass. She loves Mickey but is drawn to his unknown twin, Eddie. Joel Benedict plays the role of Eddie, and manages to inject humour and longing into the role. His gleeful joy at joining in with Mickey’s antics, having been previously banned by his parents, is skilfully done.
The music is terrific and entirely relevant to each current scene. I loved Mrs Johnstone’s song, ‘Marilyn Monroe’, which Lyn Paul reprises throughout the show, cleverly altering the words slightly as circumstances change, but always keeping the same effective ending.

The big climactic anthem ‘Tell Me it’s Not True’ is Russell’s masterpiece. It is the one everyone knows and is waiting for, and it still thrills. Lyn Paul sings it well and generates the appalling sadness and disbelief that is the culmination of Mrs Johnstone’s original sin. Surely now in the realms of classic musical anthems, it is one of the most emotional and heart-rending songs ever written, and results in the inevitable ‘not a dry eye in the house’.

‘Triumph over adversity’

The story throws up the eternal question of which is of greater importance, nature or nurture. But the answer is not here, despite the dichotomy being clearly shown. The twin who is taken by Mrs Lyons certainly grows up very differently from Mickey, but there is always the inevitable pull towards each other, even when they do not know each other’s identity. Perhaps the greater assumption is that truth is more important than anything else, as the original lies result in tragedy.

Willy Russell not only wrote Blood Brothers, but also the songs, both lyrics and music, a massive achievement when most musicals these days are a compilation of many talents. Blood Brothers carries Russell’s trademark northern grit and triumph over adversity, and although we have been warned of possible tragedy, the end, when it comes, is shocking and unbelievable in its power.

The emotional intensity of the show is tangible. The theatre was packed and on its feet at the end, and the cast showed amazing modesty at curtain call. They did not enter individually for applause, the ovation increasing as the bigger parts emerged. They stood in a line, holding hands, and took the applause together. Truly a magnificent joint venture.

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