When a show regularly tours you often see the cracks starting to appear as the production values are cut or the latest cast fail to live up to predecessors. But in this production of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers the exact opposite is true, as this latest tour has the strongest overall performances I have seen in the musical. An instant standing ovation proved I was not the only person thinking along those lines.
At the heart of its success is a strong story, with songs that actually add something to the show rather than stop it in its tracks. Blood Brothers is an emotional rollercoaster that gives its terrible heart wrenching ending away right at the start. But part of its pulling power is because the story is not just about love, it’s about class divisions, making life changing decisions and fate.
The mix of these factors make it riveting as we follow Mrs Johnstone, already the mother of several children, as finds she is pregnant with twins she cannot afford to keep. Reluctantly, and with a nagging doubt, she agrees to give one of them away to Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer), the lady she cleans for. Maureen Nolan has grown in to the role of Mrs. Johnstone, a role often taken by one of her sisters, and her powerhouse performance leaves her looking emotionally drained at the finale.
Although the twins have no idea who the other is, by a twist of fate they get to know each other and form a close bond, which lasts as they grow up. However, with one twin having to depend on medication to get him through the day and the shared love of one girl, we know that their fate is sealed.
Sean Jones, who has played the role of Mickey on tour and in the West End, is faultless as the twin left to grow up with his real mother. He believably changes from a cheeky seven year old to the young man doped on anti-depressants in front of our eyes. Having seen Jones in this role several times, he just seems to improve with every performance and it is hard to imagine this show without his driving performance. However, this leaves Matthew Collyer, who plays the Eddie, with a mammoth task to make his “posh twin” believable, which he manages to pull off more successfully as the younger Eddie.
Marti Pellow is perfectly cast as the Narrator, who moves the story along, often standing menacingly in the shadows, like a predator.
Blood Brothers is a musical that continues to demonstrate what live theatre is all about and this production will continue to strengthen the shows fan base and ensure it is rightly touring for many years to come.