“Blood Brothers”, created by Willy Russell (who also created Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita) has become iconic and has a cult following. It has been all over the world and yet manages to stay true to it’s Liverpudlian heritage, with most of the actors on this tour coming from Liverpool. The musical spent 24 years in the West End, 2 years on Broadway and now it’s touring regionally. Mrs Johnstone has been played by Helen Reddy, Linda Nolan, Petula Clark, Carole King, Kiki Dee, Mel C to name a few. In the Richmond Theatre audience, there were people wearing the t-shirts who knew every word. I heard someone mention they had seen it 35 times. I went with a girlfriend who has seen it at least six times….
Lyn Paul, who first came to fame in the 1970’s as a member of the New Seekers (“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”) has had a love affair with “Blood Brothers” for 22 years and is currently on her farewell tour, playing Mrs Johnstone for the last few times. Incredibly she’s still managing to play the mother of newborn twins at nearly 70!! That is some feat. She’s been on the road with the musical since August last year, directed by her good friend Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson. This week it’s playing at the Richmond Theatre. It’s a fabulous production and despite her voice being lower now, she still manages to infuse the emotion required into the songs and she totally pulls it off, not least because I’m pretty sure she bursts into tears every night during the closing scene when she sings “Tell Me It’s Not True.” It’s no wonder the farewell tour has been extended and is now going on until at least April around the country.
Described as a Liverpudlian folk opera – the musical is so much more than that. This is storytelling at it’s most primal and powerful, a story as old as the hills, telling the sad tale of a pair of twins separated at birth and brought up in completely different environments. This is Nature Vs Nuture at it’s most distilled and all about social injustice, specifically the distribution of wealth and the subsequent opportunities and privileges.
The songs are very strong and the same ones thread through the whole 2 and a half hour play – it starts with the last scene and the emotionally charged “Tell Me It’s Not True,” so you know, right from the start, that it’s not going to be a happy ending. So with that knowledge already burnt into your brain, together with the hauntingly menacing narrator (Robbie Scotcher -perfect) means that you are sitting on the edge of your seat for most of the time.
“Did you hear the story of the Johnstone twins?” he says….and we are already hooked and off we go….
One of the plays best qualities is the unexpected humour – it certainly adds to the enjoyment (but don’t expect much of it in the second half!) It’s not an easy task to play a “nearly 8 year old” and finish as a thirty-something…going through 14, 16, 18 and beyond and yet Alexander Patmore who plays Mickey and Joel Benedict who plays Eddie do it brilliantly. As does Daniel Taylor as Sammy and Danielle Corlass as Linda.
It is no wonder the musical still succeeds in filling all the seats and getting a standing ovation at the end of each performance. This is something we all should see and it will certainly continue to stand the test of time.