After Willy Russell wrote Blood Brothers in 1983, a critic remarked that although he hadn't written the best musical in history, he had written the best finale. The sight of Mrs. Johnstone, standing by her sons as they meet their destiny, remains one of the most emotionally and spiritually rousing moments in theatre.
Class divides share a bloodline. When single mother Mrs. Johnstone discovers that the stork is due to make a double delivery to her already full household, she agrees to give one of her twins to her rich employer. As the years go on, the children become best friends against their parents' wishes, entwining their destinies in a show full of fate, superstition and synthesiser-borne prophetic doom.
Entering to the whoops of a hungry audience, Marti Pellow plays the part of the menacing narrator well. A spectre at a feast of Mrs. Johnstone's homemade scouse, he creeps around the cast like a creature of darkness and lurks at a window like the shadow of Mrs. Bates. Though his vocal performance at times difficult to understand and sounds unnecessarily over-aerated, Pellow plays the most overstated part in theatre with a cool withdrawal that suits the part. Although Pellow finds himself a plum position on the poster, the stars who seal the fate of this musical are its regular cast. Maureen Nolan continues the family trade by playing Mrs. Johnstone, and brings an sympathy and roundness to the character which is as affecting as it is affirmative, even if she does sound a little strained on some of the more poppy numbers. Kelly-Anne Gower, too, meets the sass and sadness of her character wonderfully, and Tracey Spencer performs the part of Mrs. Lyons with a beautiful cleanness that belies the middle-class malevolence of her character.
Sean Jones and Matthew Collyer are excellent as the star-crossed brothers, clashing the archaic fun of the playground with an Etonite need for freedom. The outstanding performance of the evening is Jones's, almost physically ageing, vocally and spiritually, as the play progresses and finding the underlying tragedies and inequities of class with intelligence and insight.
Though the show is looking as dusty as Mrs. Johnstone's sitting room rug, the design still works perfectly. The heavy, dread filled synthesisers of Ben Harrison's soundscape are beginning to sound a little dated, yet still underline the cosmic workings of fate which run through the show with tension like the unstoppable progress of an asteroid on a collision course. And whilst the red, brick-clad houses of Andy Walmsley's set is far from a new-build, it is far from being condemned by the Housing Association.
As a piece of theatre, Blood Brothers is a rather pleasing anachronism. A 1980s pop musical which begins in the 1950s, it plays with swing which would have had Glenn Miller moving and big ballads which would move Bonnie Tyler to tears. Indeed, the show is perhaps as relevant to our lives now as it was in the Boys from the Black Stuff eighties, mirroring and mocking the suit in his office, signing another generation onto the dole and smilingly citing "the shrinking pound, the global situation and the price of oil" as the easy justification for corporate gain.
This remains a West End calibre night out. Blood Brothers still has the energy to make the heart pump faster, even if there are moments where it feels like Brookside: The Musical.