Director: Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
Writer: Willy Russell
Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone twins? If you haven’t, it’s one you need to add to your list. If it is, it’s one you need to revisit. Blood Brothers is an emotional rollercoaster of a production, which started out as a play and soon evolved to become the show we have come to know and love with a score of some of the country’s most recognisable musical theatre numbers including Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True.
Currently showing at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, this Bill Kenwright production, often studied by English and Drama students, is written by the incredibly talented playwright Willy Russell. Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, it follows twins Mickey (Sean Jones) and Edward (Jay Worley), who are separated at birth due to the financial strains placed upon their mother Mrs Johnstone (Niki Colwell Evans). Eddie grows up with all the toys he could ever need, “a bike with BOTH wheels on”, a private school to attend and no money worries. Mickey has holes in his hand-me-downs, has a criminal as a brother, ends up on the dole and spirals into madness when life deals him the wrong set of cards. But when the pair meet by chance one day, they become the best of friends, “blood brothers”, and despite their class differences, they want the life of the other – both even falling in love with the same girl Linda (Carly Burns). But as superstition predicts, twins separated at birth have just one fate and we, as the audience, are there to watch the painful outcome unfold.
This is Jones’ final ever tour as Mickey, having played it in regional theatres and in the West End since 1999. You would think, by now, he would be tired in the role and that his portrayal of a seven-year-old (sorry, nearly eight year old!) would be a little too ridiculous. But far from it. He clearly lives and breathes this role. He is both a comedian and a serious actor and he takes you on that journey from being an innocent little boy with his make-believe cowboy and Indian games, to a married man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. His will be big feet to fill. And his performance alongside Worley, as his well spoken and privileged brother, is a joy to watch.
Former X Factor star Evans too, as Mrs Johnstone, is outstanding. Her vocals are one of the strongest of the Mrs Johnstone catalogue of actresses and the emotion she puts into the iconic final number Tell Me It’s Not True, must be nothing short of draining. As she takes her final bow, she looks emotionally zapped, as do her cast mates around her.
In this particular adaptation, the Narrator (Richard Munday), while always ever-present on the stage, doesn’t seem to have the impact of previous productions. Some of his dialogue, particularly in the first half, is a little too rushed and his vocals, while good, aren’t the strongest of his predecessors. While also a really minor flaw, the music does sometimes overwhelm the singing, especially in the first half, but it does by no mean have an impact on the overall enjoyment of the show and the hair-raising finale that will bring tears to your eyes and have you shooting to your feet.
You’ll have read about the awards, about the emotional impact of the show, of the sensational writing and, it is true, to this day remains one of the must sees for any theatregoer.
Runs until 15 October 2022.