CentralDramaFeaturedMusicalReview

Blood Brothers – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

Book,Music and Lyrics: Willy Russell

Directors: Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson

First penned by Willy Russell in 1983, Blood Brothers started its life in a shorter format touring around schools. After a great reception, it was extended and a version of the musical we see today was born. Billed as telling a moving story of two twins separated at birth, it follows the stories of Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Joe Sleight) as they navigate the fun and pitfalls of childhood.

Despite its immediate sinister undertones and serious nature, a charming, childlike innocence shines through from the off and we are immediately captivated by poetic speech and playground games. Particularly in the first act but subtly present throughout, the show’s playfulness means it’s not hard to believe the early life of the show as a school production, albeit one that has matured beautifully.

With the whole ensemble ageing rapidly before our very eyes, the cast has a lot to do to convince us, and that they do. Jones’ performance as 7-year-old Mickey is instantly and delightfully believable and is soon perfectly complemented by Olivia Sloyan as Linda and Sleight as Eddie. As we watch the threesome grow, their spectacular rapport means that we too become woven into their story, rooting for each and every one but already knowing too much. With their innocent joy and juvenile enthusiasm, at times we are almost utterly convinced we are witnessing a family production, however, just as we get carried away with the games, the ever-present spectre that is narrator Richard Munday haunts the stage to keep us in check and on the edge of our seats. His evocative performance and almost puppeteer-like interactions with the others on stage only serve to deepen the bond between the audience and characters and as the scenes go on both he and we blur the lines between love and hate and no longer think straight. He is truly mesmerising.

Also mesmerising is Niki Colwell Evans as Mrs Johnstone. Back in what is clearly a very comfortable and familiar role, Evans is simply flawless and owns every second she is on stage. From flirty floozy to desperate doormat, she masters every emotion, hits every note and bewitches everyone in her presence, cast and audience alike. Complemented well by the convincingly disturbed, Paula Tappenden as Mrs Lyons, we’re once again left unsure as to who to love and hate.

For a play first staged four decades ago to still have such acclaim, to still appeal to such a wide range of audiences and to still receive such a powerful and unanimous standing ovation as it did at this performance, is really something special. Blood Brothers is quite unlike any other musical. It’s familiar yet unique, innocent yet guilty and its haunting charm makes you feel like you are part of the secret. Seeing it will be one decision you never regret.

Runs until: 1 April 2023 and on tour

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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