So did you ever hear the tale of the Johnstone twins / As like each other two new pins, / How one was kept, one given away / They were born and they died on the self-same day.
These words begin and conclude Blood Brothers. Richard Munday narrates the story and voices these remnant words, remaining on stage throughout most of the musical. He gives us context when needed, belting a song where appropriate, and handing his fellow cast members props during scene changes. Munday delivers – this is a role that requires both versatility and humbleness. Remaining inconspicuous when the attention is on other performers, Munday manages to be omnipresent and invisible at the same time, the latter of which is a rare quality in showbiz.
Fraternal twins Eddie (Jay Worley) and Mickey Johnstone (Sean Jones) are separated at birth. Their impoverished mother (Niki Colwell Evans), already caring for multiple children, feels unable to rear another two so is pressured into giving up one of the twins to Mrs. Lyons (Paula Tappenden), the upper middle-class woman she house-keeps for.
Mrs. Lyons has been unable to conceive children of her own and because her husband is conveniently away on an extended business trip, she is able to feign a pregnancy and give a sham birth right before Mr. Lyons (Tim Churchill) returns. The rest is history.
The cast is small but mighty; a talented ensemble of singers and actors brings this story to life.
The themes here are almost cliché – nature versus nurture, long-lost siblings, twins being separated at birth, and brothers in love with the same girl (their childhood friend, Linda, portrayed by Carly Burns). But clichés are digestible, and this story has enough substance to compensate for them.
The boys are raised by opposing classes, with Eddie ostensibly being a posho while Mickey’s clothes are tattered. Mickey uses crass language that is beyond Eddie’s dictionary yet the boys are inseparable when they accidentally meet, not knowing their shared lineage. Finding out they share the same birthday; they make a pact to be “blood brothers”.
In an interview, creator Willy Russell said that the musical does “well in places where the culture doesn’t include musicals. It does seem to be the musical loved by people who hate musicals”. This must be because fans are enamoured with the story and characters themselves. It’s not a musical known for its score, although the narrator’s ‘Shoes Upon the Table’ is catchy.
What stood out most about this show was the audience’s reaction. Not to discredit the cast or story, but we’d never witnessed an audience so rowdy or invested – Broadway and West End cheers paled in comparison. The audience’s enthusiasm had the same effect as contagious laughter during a stand-up set. What started off as enclaves of eager fans spread throughout the crowd as attendees grew more and more animated. The standing ovation was immediate and impassioned when final bows were taken, . Whether the actors’ friends were among the crowd, people had done the musical for GCSE drama and felt connected to it, or the audience just found it that cracking, they audibly loved the show.
If audience consensus is anything to go by, this is a fun musical and a guaranteed good time.
Blood Brothers plays at The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) until October 22 and tours the UK until late February 2023.