Writer: Willy Russell
Director: Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson
Reviewer: Dan English
It is an emotional tour de force at the Orchard Theatre as Blood Brothers reaches Dartford as part of its current UK tour.
Caught up among the class struggles of 1960s Liverpool, Mrs Johnstone finds herself caught in an impossible situation, carrying twins with little money or security for her family. Offered an incomprehensible decision, Mrs Johnstone choices haunt her and those around her for the duration of her life and this production, with dramatic and tragic consequences.
It is remarkable that a play such a this, which had its very first production over thirty years ago, can still tap into the contemporary psyche. Mental health, class division and gender stereotypes are all explored in this performance, and it feels fresher than ever.
Lyn Paul returns to play (promoted as the final time), Mrs Johnstone, giving a powerful and emotional performance as one of the performance’s leads. Paul delivers with aplomb and effortlessly portrays an array of layers to this iconic character. Paul’s interaction with her children is heartfelt, and she quickly becomes a character who endears to the audience.
Joel Benedict and Alexander Patmore are estranged twins Eddie and Mickey respectively. The energy and enthusiasm of the pair is contagious, and their initial interactions are well-crafted and capture the youthful innocence of the pair. Both have the task of showing the same character at multiple ages, and it’s the subtle differences which add depth to these challenging roles. Their deliveries look exhausting, and they’re all the more engaging for it, especially as the piece reaches its climax.
In the iconic role as the Narrator in stepped in Tim Churchill (Usually plays Mr Lyons), whose omniscient narrator guides us through the turmoils of the Lyons and Johnstone families. Churchill’s role, almost menacing in delivery, is slick and Churchill’s command of challenging songs is clear. This is a strong performance and is one of the many highlights this production boasts.
Designed by Andy Walmsley, the production’s set design captures all of the original West End production, and quickly immersed us into 60s and 70s Liverpool. Split effectively to explore the different social classes of the time, the set is easily to manipulate, offering quick set changes which allow the almost three-hour piece to glide along.
This is an exceptional revivial of a much loved and iconic British play. That Blood Brothers still draws sellout crowds makes it clear that this play, and its moral and social conundrums, still have a place in the centre of debate in 21st century Britain. Willy Russell’s musical remains unmissable theatre.
Runs until 23rd November 2019 and then continues UK tour. | Image: Robert Day (Previous Cast)