Book, Music, Lyrics: Willy Russell
Directors: Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
Originally premiering as a full musical in 1983, Blood Brothers is an enduring Liverpudlian story of two twins separated at birth. Audiences across the world have loved this show for years, and it’s easy to see why – a rockin’ score and heart-wrenching tale of the inevitable bond of family makes this a British musical theatre classic.
Matriarch Mrs Johnstone (beautifully played by Niki Colwell Evans) is first introduced as a young woman eager to dance, enchanted by a young man who compares her to Marilyn Monroe – a comparison which later will not be so appreciated. She soon finds herself husbandless with a family of seven and twins on the way. Her employer, wealthy and childless Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden), bargains with Mrs Johnstone to take one of the twins as her own. The deal is sealed with a hand on the Bible and stamped in bad luck when Mrs Lyons puts new shoes on the table. The boys are born, separated, and the trouble begins. Eventually, the two unwittingly become friends, taking a fatalistic oath to become blood brothers.
This story asks the audience to take a close look at class, superstition, fate, and family, making it an effective tool in most English curricula. For many years, young people have studied this story, seen the musical, and been influenced by its clear stance of nurture over nature. Eddie (Jay Worley), the twin raised in an affluent household, goes to university and becomes a councillor. Mickey (Sean Jones), the twin raised by his impoverished, overwrought mother, goes to prison and struggles with mental ill health. While these paths may still be mirrored in many young people’s current lives, it seems re-telling this story almost 40 years later perpetuates these themes and circumstances. The British obsession with class is well personified in this musical – might it be time to re-evaluate and tell a new version of this story?
Willy Russell’s music is performed excellently by the cast and live band under musical director Matt Malone. It has a rock opera feel, seeming to be influenced by Russell’s background in folk music and by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work in the 70s and 80s; even featuring a devilish, lurking, rhyming narrator (Richard Munday) which feels like an attempt to re-create Che from Webber’s Evita. Lighting Designer Nick Richings has a difficult job to punctuate the balance between a sorrowful story and the punchiness of an 80s rock opera, but his choice to work in mainly reds and blues stands to further expose the bloodiness of a family torn apart.
Blood Brothers was, at one time, a ground-breaking show. Although its themes and jokes might now be somewhat outdated, it still speaks to today’s audiences. With an emotional ending to make most mothers weep, directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright have a musical theatre fan favourite on their hands. Were the twins cursed by superstition or class? Why not visit the Wolverhampton Grand this week and decide for yourself.
Runs Until 17 September 2022 and on tour