Blood Brothers – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, October 2019
Blood Brothers has become something of a national institution since first being unleashed on the nation in the 1980s and, even though its lengthy run in the West End finished in 2012, the love for Willy Russell’s Liverpool-set story shows no signs of ending any time soon.
It has since become a staple of theatres all around the country, with the current run reaching Hull this week and heading to York from Monday. Judging by the reception and standing ovations on its opening night in Hull, it’s fair to say the audience lapped up every minute of its slick production, belting musical numbers and rollercoaster of emotions.
The story itself may be well known, but it’s worth repeating here for those unaware of its central premise. The battle of Nature v Nurture is one that has been told many times, but probably not reaching quite as wide an audience as Blood Brothers.
In essence it’s a relatively simple plot, focusing on twins who are separated at birth and end up in two very different households. One, Mickey, stays with his birth mother Mrs Johnstone, who lives in poverty with several of her other children, while the other, Eddie, is adopted by Mrs Lyons, the well-to-do woman for whom Mrs Johnstone works as a cleaner, but who can’t have kids of her own. From thereon in there’s an inevitable sense of doom that this isn’t going to lead to a happy ending, as Mickey and Eddie become best friends, or ‘Blood Brothers’, without knowing the real identity of the other.
The families’ paths continue to cross even though both move away from their original housing, and the childhood friendship forged between Mickey and Eddie is rekindled in their teens despite their markedly different upbringings and outlooks on life. Thrown into the mix, and central to how the plot develops, is Linda, a childhood friend of both Mickey and Eddie, but I won’t say any more on that for those of you who wish to avoid any spoilers.
All of this plot development takes place against the backdrop of several recurring musical numbers, such as ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Shoes Upon the Table’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, and with the guiding hand of a character simply known as Narrator. This part is crucial to Blood Brothers and drives the whole production along, played with brooding panache by Robbie Scotcher, who breaks the fourth wall between stage and audience, almost stalking the two ‘mothers’ and reminding them of their actions.
As for the rest of the cast, who were universally excellent it must be said, I do have to give a special shout out to Alexander Patmore as Mickey, and Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone. Patmore has the task of playing Mickey from the age of 7 (nearly 8) right through to adulthood and does so with ease, portraying every emotion from the comic moments of his youth right through to the desperation of his later life.
In addition, there’s added emotion to this particular tour, which sees Paul playing the pivotal role of Mrs Johnstone for the final time, more than 20 years after first taking on the role. At the age of 70, she seems as spritely as ever and has a remarkable voice, able to belt out the tunes and deliver some of the play’s funniest lines.
At more than two and a half hours, the story doesn’t drag, although I do think there’s an overemphasis in the first act on the younger years of Mickey and Eddie, which leads to their later years in the second act seeming a little rushed, as events spiral tragically out of control. But that’s a minor quibble, and one that didn’t seem to bother the audience at all, who will no doubt continue to pack out the theatres in Hull and York over the next couple of weeks.