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17th February 2022

Review: Blood Brothers

Editor-in-chief Jess Walmsley reviews Blood Brothers at the Palace Theatre
Review: Blood Brothers
Photo: Blood Brothers

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers is back in Manchester, and I was so pleased to be able to attend the opening night. I studied the play a long time ago, so I was really excited to see it come to life on stage, and it did not disappoint.

Blood Brothers is a musical about two twin brothers separated at birth, both never knowing the truth about their relationship. The show covers themes from superstition to social class, framing the very different lives the two brothers were set to lead. Throughout the play, the Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) remains on stage, always watching, luring in the background, reminding the characters of the awful fate if the brothers ever discovered the truth. After all, the show begins with the death of two men, their bodies being covered and a mother crying, forewarning the audience from the start that something dreadful is going to happen. Throughout the whole play, the audience tensely awaits the sound of gunshots.

Photo: Blood Brothers

The play is set in Liverpool in the mid 1980s, where working-class families struggled to make ends meet, unemployment levels were high, and Thatcher’s reign was in full force. The historical context of Liverpool, and the experiences of those living on the ‘never never’, is crucial to truly understanding the life of Mrs. Johnstone – and why the lives of Mickey and Eddie differed so much.  From the difference in schooling to their financial situations, the two brothers are defined by their class, which becomes the divide and motivator for their demise.

Linda, played by Carly Burns, is the childhood sweetheart to both Micky and Eddie. Her performance was sweet and beautiful due to her love for both of the brothers despite her life beginning to mirror that of Mrs. Johnstone. Micky, Eddie and Linda conveyed adolescence, coming of age, and the realities of life, as the audience watched them emotionally grow up, with changes in costumes signifying their ageing.

Photo: Blood Brothers

The cast was incredible; even with last minute changes, they brought the play to life.

The energy  from both brothers, Micky played by Josh Capper in a last-minute cast change, and Eddie played by Joel Benedict, took the audience on a journey through their lives. Their comical performance of acting like children shooting guns, pulling their sweaters over their knees and burying worms, to becoming adults was very believable.

Less, however, can be said for the character of Sammy who was played by Pete Washington; swapped in last minute. His bad boy attitude is Sammy’s prime attribute, one minute stealing sweets, the next shooting an air gun. Pete Washington, despite looking quite a lot older then an 8 year-old, actually made the play much more humorous, what with seeing a grown man pretending to be a cowboy!

With the theme of superstition weaved throughout the performance, it made sense for the cast size to be 13, a notoriously unlucky number for some. The limited cast number meant many parts were doubled up; the milkman became a gynaecologist midway through!

Mrs. Johnstone, played by Niki Evans, sang about her love of dancing and falling in love with her husband, who compared her beauty to that of Marilyn Monroe. It painted a scene of adolescent love and joy. However, soon we learn that Mrs. Johnston is already on her 7th child with twins on the way. Her husband has left her for someone who looks more like Marilyn Monroe, and she is alone, struggling to provide for her children and battling debt collectors, police officers and her family.

Niki Evans’ voice was faultless; her emotion came through every note as she toyed with the emotions of the audience, willing them to sympathise with her as she gave away one of her twin sons. As the play went on, Mrs. Johnston is given a fresh start, a ‘Bright New Day’, rehoused in the countryside, her life is completely transformed. You can’t help but smile with Mrs. Johnstone as she embraces her chance of a new life.

Photo: Blood Brothers

The set, itself, perfectly showed off the two contrasting lives, one side being the council estate where the Johnstone family lived, the other a grand mansion where the Lyon’s family lived. The exterior of the homes served as a constant reminder of the divides social class can have in society. Everything about the lighting and the costumes were in parallel to the ‘Sign of the Times’, which brought the play I read as a child even more to life.

Even though there were last-minute cast changes on opening night, the cast was seamless. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show and would love to see it all over again, as emotional as it is!

Blood Brothers plays at the Palace Theatre until 26th February before continuing its UK tour. If you can’t make it this time, don’t fret, for the musical returns to Greater Manchester from 18th until 22nd October, at the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre in Salford.

Jess Walmsley

Jess Walmsley

Editor-in-Chief 21/22

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