MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Blood Brothers – Darlington Hippodrome

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Writer: Willy Russell

Directors: Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright

As theatres continue to work hard to persuade their patrons to leave their homes and sit in a big room full of strangers, it is testament to Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers that despite touring the UK almost constantly for what seems forever, it still has the power to pack an auditorium. And as other shows get reimagined, Blood Brothers seems to have remained largely unchanged in the nearly four decades since it debuted on the West End. But why fix what isn’t broken?

Russell’s genius has always been in his ability to make biting social commentary while generating big laughs from his audience. Blood Brothers may be his biggest success in this department as the show swings effortlessly from extremely broad comedy to heart-wrenching tragedy, often within the space of a few lines of dialogue. Shakespearean? Maybe. Melodramatic? Definitely.  But the mix is so perfectly balanced that this musical has developed a well-deserved following, attested to by a full house on a cold Tuesday evening.

The show works with a small cast and puts so much of a demand on all of them that there is no room for a weak link. The main five or six characters are required to work extremely hard in their roles, while the remainder of the cast juggle multiple characters, sometimes within the same scene. The cast of this tour are superb led by a truly remarkable performance by Sean Jones as Mickey. Believably portraying the character from a cheeky seven year old, through awkward teenage years to a broken and drug-addled adult, Jones completely captivates the audience whether delivering the hilarious poem I Wish I Was Our Sammy or begging his wife Linda for the pills he so desperately craves.  The performance of Jones alone would make this show eminently watchable, but the rest of the cast are equally able. This includes Joel Benedict as Mickey’s blood brother Eddie. This is a much less showy role than Mickey but Benedict equals Jones in his ability to perfectly play the different ages of the character while maintaining a slightly prim and amusingly proper demeanour. Equally impressive is Carly Burns as Linda, who brilliantly anchors the relationship between the two brothers without ever feeling less than a equal to them.

The role that most people talk about in regards to Blood Brothers is Mrs Johnstone, mother to Mickey and Eddie whose desperate act of giving away one of her twins ultimately leads to the tragic denouement.  Niki Evans was introduced to the world on X-Factor and certainly has the voice to prove it. However what is more impressive is her completely charming and natural acting ability that are so crucial for this role. The show would fall apart if this part were filled with a singer attempting to act, but Evans never allows the audience to doubt that she has the talent to carry off such a difficult role, especially in the closing moments of the show with her emotional rendition of Tell Me It’s Not True.

Robbie Scotcher is the ubiquitous Narrator, Paula Tappenden plays the slowly unravelling Mrs Lyons and Daniel Taylor portrays Sammy’s development from little tyke to real villain. All of them as well as the remaining half dozen cast members are all perfect.

The set design, lighting and direction don’t stray far from what we expect to see with this show and all are handled expertly. There is a slight issue with sound balance in some of the chorus numbers which makes Russell’s wonderful lyrics sometimes difficult to decipher over the orchestra, but mainly the small and enthusiastic band are kept to a perfect level under the direction of Matt Malone.

As the final bows are taken and the cast receive their standing ovation, they look exhausted both physically and emotionally. This is hardly surprising as the preceding three hours have been a rollercoaster for both them and the audience. And like all good rollercoasters, this one demands multiple rides. If you haven’t seen Blood Brothers, book now. If you have seen it, still book now: both this modern classic and your local theatre deserve to be supported.

Runs until 6th February 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Bloody Good

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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One Comment

  1. Matinee 5/2/22
    Absolutely fantastic!!!
    Mrs Js vocals were amazing, Micky’s transition from naughty boy to broken man was just brilliant and the narrator there at every step of the journey eerily providing us with the dark reminder of what was done and foreshadowing what was to unfold.
    All the actors were outstanding and perfectly matched for their characters Linda, Eddie, both parents and our Sammy and the men’s vocals while waiting in the dole queue gave goosebumps.
    Highly recommend, would go again tomorrow with the same cast if there was tickets.

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