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Blood Brothers (Tour - Bristol Hippodrome)

Blood Brothers returns to Bristol in a production that doesn't fully realise its greatness.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Picture: Blood Brothers previous tour, play at The Alhambra Theatre, Bradord, West Yorkshire 2008.
© Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

The juggernaught that is Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, continues to steam on, even after its closure after 24 years in the West End in 2012. Its easy to see why, the structure is flawless and the narrative tears along with heart, humour, pathos, social commentary and an ending designed to send audiences home both in tears and in raptures. If, on my third viewing of this production, I left feeling slightly less exhilarated then usual, it is because of reservations both about the suitability of the cavernous Hippodrome to stage a show that works best in close up and for some casting choices that are at best questionable.

The story hardly needs reciting here; Mrs Johnstone separates her twins at birth, keeping Micky who grows up in a life of poverty and struggle, and giving away Edward who grows up in rather more refined settings. This doesn't however stop them meeting as children and becoming ‘blood' brothers, a bond that will see them navigate through their teenage years and into their twenties all the way to the shows tragic denouement.

Its one of those shows you can imagine working just as well in a school hall as it is on the professional stage. The Hippodrome is a vast space, a lot larger then the Phoenix Theatre was for its London run, and the production breaks sweat to fill it properly. This is particularly felt in the sound which is over amplified to such an effect you feel you could be sitting watching We Will Rock You.

The principal cast all have long associations with the show and this works both as a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, Sean Jones is the best Micky I've seen, bursting with infectious childish energy during the first half, conveying squirm inducing teenage insecurity in the second half and delivering an astonishing portrayal of a life destroyed by the end. It made me imagine that the portrayal had similarities to that fine actor Con O'Neill, the original in the West End, and there can be no finer compliment then that. On the negative, Mark Hutchinson as Eddie, has now been playing the part for over 20 years on and off and its faintly absurd to see a man of his years play a part that really should be played by someone much younger. His long association with the show, and there's no doubt he's been a loyal servant playing with distinction round the world, really should have climaxed with the closure of the show in London. Maureen Nolan as Mrs J is somewhere in the middle. She inevitable sings the songs with power and poise, but there is a distinct lack of originality to what she is doing.

The rest of the cast fare better, with Danielle Corlass as Linda making more of that role then I remember from previous productions as does Daniel Taylor's towering Sammy. If you haven't seen the production before then don't miss the opportunity to go see the show in Bristol or on tour. It is a marvel and a thrilling example of what musical theatre can be. Star ratings are always a difficult thing to judge but in this case read it as five stars for the show, three for the production.

Blood Brothers is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 18 April and then tours till 29 November 2014.

- Kris Hallett