Blood Brothers, the musical that has had a special place in my heart for a long time – it will always be a five star production in my eyes and has yet to deviate from that honour. Each time I see it feels like watching again for the first time as it’s easy to find something I may have missed on other occasions.
If you don’t know the story let me enlighten you… the action is set in Liverpool where class difference has never been more prominent and centres around Mrs Johnstone, her family and struggles. She was married but he scarpered as soon as the number of children she was having almost rivaled that of a football team. With twins on the way and the welfare threatening to take her kids away she reluctantly strikes up a bargain with her well to do employer, Mrs Lyons. Splitting up her twin boys, Mickey grows up with the big boisterous family and of course, Mrs Johnstone as his mother, whereas Edward is raised by Mr and Mrs Lyons, with Mr Lyons remaining in the dark about the reason why his apparently barren wife has born him a son. As the lads grow up, having met each other and become friends when they were age 7 (nearly 8) there’s a love triangle developing with a girl called Linda and the class divide is set to catalyse fatal consequences.
You’re bound to have heard a number of the timeless songs; there’s ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ to name a few. Linzi Hateley plays the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, taking over from Lyn Paul, she’s made the role her own. Mark Hutchinson plays Edward (Eddie) and his years of experience in the part are very telling, it’s almost like a second skin for him. Robbie Scotcher is a moody, shadow-dwelling narrator, the power of his vocals wows and he possesses extraordinary stage presence. Daniel Taylor will always be my Sammy, the tantrums are show-stopping and there’s always a splash of real menace which hints at what the future holds for the character. Danielle Corlass gives another flawless performance as Linda. Tim Churchill is as superb as always, excellent as Mr Lyons and hilarious as the milkman cum gynaecologist. The ensemble are also as strong as ever with Graham Martin reducing the audience to tears of laughter with his performances as the Judge and the two vastly different teachers. Amy-Jane Ollies also shines as Donna Marie and Miss Jones. Andy Owens never fails to give a wonderfully funny portrayal of the nerdy pal, Perkins.
Last night belonged, for me personally, to Sean Jones as Mickey and Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons. That’s because it was the last time that I was to see them in the show. They’re both bound for pastures new and with Sean having 15 years under his belt it’s going to be rather strange getting used to a new Mickey. Sarah Jane joined the cast in 2016, but it’s no secret that I was already a huge fan (and still am a huge fan!) as I loved her as Kathy Barnes in Channel Four’s Hollyoaks. As Mrs Lyons she has surpassed my expectations, adding an extra something special to the ‘bridesmaid’ of the female roles. I was also lucky enough to see her play Mrs Johnstone as she has understudied the part, and her performance still resonates now. One of my favourite experiences in the theatre.
Sean Jones IS Mickey, so although I’m certain the new one will be fantastic and find his feet, I’m sure the loss of Sean from the cast will be felt keenly. Wishing both of them all the best for their future roles anyway – which I know they will both be amazing in. Look out for them, and indeed catch them in one of the venues that they will tour to with Blood Brothers before they finish. This is the first of their four remaining weeks with the tour.
All in all, Blood Brothers is one of the best nights at the theatre you could wish for, miss it at your peril! If you want to catch it at the wonderful Malvern Festival Theatre, it plays there until Saturday 2nd February: blood-brothers
I’m late with last year’s highlights but suffice to say that 2018 was a fantastic year for shows of all genres. A great mix was on offer for Entertainment Views to attend and there have been so many wonderful memories made along the way. Here are just a few of the stand-out opportunities I had…
Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas have been on my radar for years and I’ve watched many of them, however I had never seen Iolanthe nor the wonderful ENO performing one of their famous operettas. So – the chance to see Iolanthe performed by the ENO at London’s Coliseum was too good a chance to miss. With Yvonne Howard giving an outstanding performance as the Fairy Queen and a cast de force, all I can say is bring on its return! Iolanthe Review
Hotel Transylvania 3
What a movie! My movie of the year for sure! If you’ve never seen the other movies in the franchise it doesn’t matter, you can dive into this one and soon get the gist of the hilarious plot and get to know the madcap characters. A great film for grown ups as well as kids.
Falstaff (Garsington Opera)
Opera is one of my new loves and Falstaff was one of my first experiences of a non-operetta style. It starred Yvonne Howard who (as you already know) is one of my all-time favourite performers and Henry Waddington was exceptional in the lead title role. Garsington offers beautiful surroundings and a unique setting – I hope to return this summer. Falstaff Review
Coventry Comic Con
One of my favourite Comic Cons returned for its second year and it was a glorious set-up as expected. Plenty of stalls, activities and cosplayers as well as a great spacious layout. Our who family love this one and can’t wait to go again this year. Coventry Comic Con Review
I adore Blood Brothers, it’s one of my all-time favourite musicals and for the past couple of years one of the best actresses (in my humble opinion) has been playing Mrs Lyons and understudying the role of Mrs Johnstone – the brilliant Sarah-Jane Buckley. I was lucky enough to see the show a few times in 2018 and look forward to seeing it again this year, although a few cast changes are afoot… Here’s one of my latest reviews: Blood Brothers Review
This Morning Live!
I am a huge fan of This Morning and for those who know me well, you’ll be aware that I am also a massive fan of Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes. In Birmingham we’re really lucky to have the This Morning Live! show at the NEC and it was a superb experience. From shopping to cooking masterclasses to meeting the presenters themselves (I only managed to meet Alison Hammond this time around but she is amazing and so lovely) – I couldn’t recommend the show more. This Morning Live! Review
Sixties Gold Show
I’ve long been a fan of The Searchers and I’ve supported them on solo tours on many an occasion – however this was the first Sixties Gold tour I’d been to. It was one of the biggest highlights of my reviewing year and I’m really looking forward to the next one. It was such an amazing night, buzzing! Sixties Gold Tour Review
BBC Good Food Show
I’ve been interested in going to the BBC Good Food Show for years, I finally grabbed the opportunity to attend their winter show and it was everything I hoped it would be! I’m looking forward to attending the summer show this year. BBC Good Food Show
Claire Richards solo gig
I adore Steps, I have so many favourites from among their epic back-catalogue, however I am also loving Claire Richards as a solo artist. She’s got such a powerful voice and her versatility knows no bounds. A superb gig at Birmingham Town Hall showcased her talent, the album is out very soon and my review of her gig is here: Claire Richards Review
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Malvern Theatres)
Malvern Theatres has long been top of my list of midlands-based theatres and their production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a brilliant cornucopia of mad-cap stereotypical panto antics. Su Pollard was a revelation and stole the show. A well deserved five stars! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Review
The Future of Entertainment Views
On a final note, I wanted to update all of my valued readers and subscribers on the direction that 2019 will most likely see my small corner of the internet, taking. You can find a bit about this particular rambling on my https://entertainmentviews.co.uk/about/ but I wanted to use this post to chat a bit more about blogging and me. As an established blogger juggling a young family as well as having a bash at hanging on to a day job too, I’m often asked all of the questions I’m about to answer…
In 2013 I branched out as an independent theatre blogger, reviewing shows at the local theatres I’d built up a relationship with on behalf of an established review site which sadly no longer exists. Break A Leg Review was born at around the same time as I discovered I was pregnant so my progress was slow to begin with, although I kept up with it as much as possible. I worked full time in a day job with the NHS and my morning sickness was as backwards as I can be, in that it appeared in the evenings!
I was reviewing in and around the West Midlands as that’s where I’m based and I had managed to secure a place on press lists at most of the theatres that I frequent. In 2015 I was lucky enough to connect with London theatres and due to suggestions from the various people I was interviewing, meeting and liaising with – I added movie and television reviews to the mix as well as music too. My blog took off in ways I could never have imagined during that year.
I made the decision to reach out to London theatres (and many other venues around the UK) as well as add other types of review to my blog because I had become a mum in 2014. That’s the quick answer. Becoming a mum changed my life in thousands of ways. To begin with, I was so consumed by the tiny little boy in my life that I considered giving up my blog. However, having returned to my day job on a part time basis while I searched for a different career that would suit motherhood and the juggling, I was considering blogging and therefore working from home, as a viable option. I ended up in another NHS job working unsociable hours instead, however so draining on my mental health was this new job, that it became even more of a goal to be able to work from home.
I took yet another NHS job to keep the bank account happy and which made my mental health happier (for a limited period of time!) and worked hard throughout 2016 to try my hand at other things such as social media management and website creations. I might have been working part time in the NHS but with my other work (blog included) mounting up – it felt like the right time to take the plunge and work solely from home. Timing was good as 2017 was my little boy’s last full year at nursery before he started school in 2018.
Truthfully, it worked for a while and was even enjoyable at times. I branched out into entertainment PR and dabbled in many areas. However, what I learned was that working from home and making a career out of blogging is not my thing. I still love to blog of course, but I don’t want my blog to be the be all and end all. The family dynamics change once your little one goes to school too. I found I couldn’t just pop off to London and I didn’t want to. I lose 6 hours a days for 5 days a week of my lad’s company during term time and I love being able to drop him off at school and pick him up. The smile on his face when I’m waiting at his classroom door is more moving than any theatrical performance I’ve reviewed.
2018 saw me start another job with the NHS (it’s what I know!) and that works at the moment. I like leaving the house to go to work and although it’s been a slightly awkward transition for my boy as he got used to me being at home, we’re all getting on with it.
2019 sees me being less of a critic and more of a cheerleader as I share all my positive experiences with you. I also have a few new ventures on the horizon which will hopefully help my much-desired career changes to take shape – but at the heart of everything are my boys – my husband and my son.
Have you tried to combine blogging with parenthood and career juggling? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!
As an entertainment and lifestyle blogger I’m always asked about my favourites, especially when I interview performers and creatives, I put the spotlight on them and more often than not the cheeky devils turn the tables on me! What’s my favourite musical, favourite play, who do I aspire to be? So, in the same way that every good website has a FAQs section, I thought I’d let you all in on my favourite things!
I’ve named this blogpost A Few of my Favourite Things, not because The Sound of Music is top of the list in the musical theatre stakes – although I do have a place in my heart for the show and I loved the incarnation which toured fairly recently and starred the superb Pippa Winslow and Zoe Ann Bown.
I digress, Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical. I can watch it over and over, I could watch it back to back and never get bored. I jump at the gunshot every time, I cry at different scenes but I do always cry. My favourite songs from the show have never changed, ‘My Child’ and ‘Show Upon The Table’. Musical theatre numbers at their best, give them a listen!
Narrowly missing the number one spot are:
Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)
Opera is a recent addition to my list of happy places and it’s all thanks to a chance viewing of The Mikado on Sky Arts. I saw opera star Yvonne Howard playing the role of Katisha and she blew me away. From there I was checking out her credits and finding myself gripped by classical opera in a way I never could have imagined.
My current favourite opera is Falstaff, I saw it at Garsington Opera very recently and it’s continued to resonate. I have a long-standing love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, they’ve been on my radar since I was a kid, however, Verdi’s Falstaff is something else. Comedy, poignancy and Italian language – it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.
Farce is my bag, when it comes to non-musical theatre I gravitate towards a laugh out loud comedy. Ray Cooney is one of my best-loved playwrights and recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing his production of Move Over Mrs Markham. It’s the king of farce and with the perfect cast, which the version I watched this year undoubtedly possessed – makes for a perfect night at the theatre for yours truly!
I’m a Disney fan and a Harry Potter geek, so choosing a favourite film is nigh on impossible. All the Harry Potter films would be one answer, all the Disney films would be another answer.
If I move away from those particular passions and opportunities for geekery, I’d have to go with the hilarious American Pie movies. I can’t choose between them because the cast stays almost consistent throughout all four of the main films from the franchise. If there were major alterations to the line-up I think that would affect my judgement, however the proverbial dream team appear in them all (barring the lack of Chris Klein as Oz in the third film – which I might never get over!). I have met Thomas Ian Nicholas too, at a comic con – something else I may never get over. Truly.
An addition to my list of films which I can re-watch with alarming regularity is a surprise entry. I didn’t expect to love Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance anywhere near as much as I did. The royal family are portrayed by a cast of exceptionally talented actors and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read my review here: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance Review
Favourite Television Programme
So tricky to narrow this one down so I’m going to pick one (or more!) from each genre. If we’re talking about Soap Operas then it has to be Coronation Street (closely followed by Hollyoaks). The Street is a continuing drama that never loses momentum and some of the old favourites still reside there.
One of my all-time favourite television dramas was Home Fires on ITV. The fact that it didn’t get a third series was bewildering and it still has a place in my heart. Unforgotten recently trumped it for Sunday night TV but I also love Call The Midwife, I can’t wait for the Christmas special. These dramas all have excellent casts who gel and make the show thoroughly watchable.
No modern day sitcom comes close to the classics I grew up watching. Hi De Hi!, You Rang M’Lord, Keeping Up Appearances. There’s nothing there to beat them, the opportunity to watch them on Gold is a god-send. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is equally up there with the best comedies in my humble opinion. They are all on my must-watch list and half an hour of any of these shows can turn my frown upside down.
The name Stephen Beckett is one that immediately springs to mind, the admiration dates back to The Bill, Coronation Street and now last year’s Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and most definitely Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre – Bill Austin is a part that was surely made for him. I didn’t know he could sing either so he’s most definitely an all-rounder de force.
I also need to add the incomparable Daniel Taylor to the mix, not only is he my favourite Sammy in my favourite musical, Blood Brothers – he’s also the best Tommy Cooper impersonator ever. He looks good in a dress, I can attest to that as I saw him as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella last year… just to clear that up! Seriously though, I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.
As for screen actors, I hand the accolade to Seann William Scott, he is also better known as Stifler from the American Pie films and I think he’s got one of the most wonderful faces! Even when he’s voicing the role of Crash in Ice Age, I can picture him recording the voice of the character. I think his forte is comedy, although when he’s in a more dramatic role he still holds my attention – what an actor!
The actor I first admired when I was a telly addict child is Jeffrey Holland, Hi De Hi! was a must-watch in our house and I was smitten with Spike. Jeff is a chameleon when it comes to acting, there’s much more to him that meets the eye.
If we’re talking on stage then Sarah Jane Buckley without hesitation. In musical theatre she is exceptional, in pantomime she’s perfection and I first discovered her when she played the role of the unstable and, let’s face it, quite scary Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks. I’ve always felt that the sky’s the limit for this super-talented lady. Sarah Jane is my best-loved actress on stage and on screen, without hesitation.
Through watching Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance I discovered two actresses who were previously unknown to me and whom I now intend to keep my eyes peeled for in future. Deborah Ramsay portrayed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Parisa Fitz-Henley played Meghan. I’m a royalist and their performances in particular resonated upon first viewing of what is now one of my favourite films and I am eager to see their faces on screen again soon.
A cheeky mention must go to the wonderful Judy Buxton too, she was one of my favourite actresses when I was growing up with watching some of the best sit coms on television and she is a power-house on stage, the epitome of versatility.
Too many to mention, however with my newly discovered love of opera the first names out of my mouth are those of Yvonne Howard and Marcus Farnsworth. The latter grabbed my attention and never let it go when he starred in the ENO production of Iolanthe at the Coliseum earlier this year. The former wowed me in The Mikado, Iolanthe and Falstaff, I’ve also heard her sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in Carousel thanks to YouTube. Glorious!
I can’t finish the favourites post without a mention going to Ramin Karimloo, he was my first Phantom and he’ll always be my Phantom. Vocal ability that pushes boundaries, he’s a force of nature.
Photo Credits: Blood Brothers (Bill Kenwright Website), Falstaff (Clive Barda), Cast of Move Over Mrs Markham (Ray Cooney), Stephen Beckett in The Tempest (Stafford Shakespeare Festival), Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers (with permission from Sarah Jane Buckley), Deborah Ramsay as Camilla in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance (Lifetime TV), ENO’s Iolanthe (Clive Barda), Ramin Karimloo (Sourced from Broadway World)
Blood Brothers is on UK tour, check out the remaining dates and book tickets here: Blood Brothers
Star rating: *****
Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical and it was a delight to see the show at one of my local theatres and with a brand new Narrator on board.
The story of the Johnstone twins is at the heart of the tale, separated at birth because their mother, Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) doesn’t know how she will feed two extra, hungry mouths. She’s also at risk of some of her kids being taken into care, which she regales to her employer, the sympathetic yet calculating Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley). She and Mr Lyons (Tim Churchill) have been unable to conceive and it’s obviously a heartbreaking secret that Mrs Lyons is not living with very successfully, hence her lightbulb moment – give one of the twins to her. Once the deal is done, both women are hounded by the Narrator (Matthew Craig) who is all encompassing and an intimidating presence representing their respective consciences and the devil, in my opinion. As we follow the lives of the Johnstone twins from birth to age seven (nearly eight) and through their teenage years, with Sean Jones as Mickey and Mark Hutchinson as Eddie playing the boys brilliantly well through all stages of life, it becomes clear that the ever-present shadow of the narrator is forecasting a gloomy finale.
With popular musical numbers such as ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Tell Me Its Not True’ punctuating the action-packed rollercoaster, it’s an emotional, believable tale packed with as many laughter-inducing moment as tear-jerking ones.
Lyn Paul is one of the ultimate Mrs Johnstones, she brings heart, grit and intricacy to the role. Sean Jones is my favourite Mickey, I feel he has the highest mountain to descend as he spirals downwards from a carefree child to the depths of what life has to throw at him once he hits adulthood, prematurely. Mark Hutchinson is a fantastic contrast as Eddie, from his posh tone of voice to the kooky ways he tries to mimic Mickey, he’s a complex character, too. Sarah-Jane Buckley never fails to astound me as Mrs Lyons, she finds fresh nuances in the character every time I see her in the role and her vocal ability is exceptionally stunning. Tim Churchill does an amazing job of playing multiple roles, each of them notable in their own right – from Mr Lyons, to the Milkman or is it the Gynaecologist? He even plays one of the young kids playing out on the street. Similarly Graham Martin plays his multiple roles superbly, from Mr Johnstone, to the Policeman to the randy old Judge – his capabilities are boundless. Danielle Corlass draws me in as Linda, she’s quirky and girlie as the seven year old and grows magnificently into the beautiful woman who causes the twins to be at loggerheads. Matthew Craig is an imposing presence as the Narrator, he’s really made the role his own. A special mention must also go to Amy-Jane Ollies who stepped in to play ALL the other female characters as well as Donna-Marie, her usual role. A truly talented performer who shone in every part she played.
The production has most certainly stood the test of time and I can always find something different and ‘new’ in each performance. The production boasts an inviting set which provides a convincing backdrop, Liverpool was definitely ‘in’ Wolverhampton last night! From the back to back houses to the sparkling street lights, it’s what I believe to be a truthful insight into life in the city. Class difference is also highlighted throughout, subtly until it builds to the tragic crescendo we’re faced with at the beginning of the musical.
Go and see Blood Brothers for yourself, it’ll challenge your way of thinking, make you want to sing along, have you crying with laughter and sobbing with heartbreak. An extraordinarily timeless piece of theatre.
2017 has been a bumper year for Break A Leg, we’ve literally been all over the place in as many theatres as possible and loving every minute. There’s been some new links made which we’ll be taking forward to 2018 and a couple of new reviewers are joining the team to cover Londontheatre. Thanks also go to Chloe Buckles who has guest blogged for us and hopefully she’ll carry on doing so for the new sister blogTV & Movie Scene
Anyway, without further ado – here are my top five favourite theatre productions of the year.
Blood Brothers ~ My ultimate favourite musical and they have one of the best casts ever at the moment. I have managed to get along to see the show three times this year. At Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and at Nottingham Theatre Royal with Lyn Paul in the role of Mrs Johnstone, but also at De Montfort Hall where the added bonus was that Sarah Jane Buckley was playing the role of Mrs J while Lyn Paul was off – one of my most unforgettable moments of this year is definitely having the opportunity to see Sarah Jane in the lead role. I’m already planning a number of return visits for next year. From the score to the exceptional performances to the story and setting itself – this is my musical of choice every time.
How The Other Half Loves ~ I saw this production last year when it was in the West End and I loved it. This year it toured and I managed to catch it at Malvern Theatres, it’s one of my favourite farces and even with some cast changes from West End to touring, this one has still stood out as a highlight of the year. Robert Daws was a fantastic addition to the cast as was Sara Crowe – I’d have loved to have seen it a few more times before the tour finished. Such a watchable piece and belly-laugh-inducing.
9 to 5 The Musical ~ This piece never fails to bring a smile to my face and the incarnation performed at Upstairs at the Gatehouse will forever be a happy memory. To be able to watch the show in such an intimate space with a strong cast was a pleasure and a privilege. Thanks to Joe Hodges and the cast and crew for an experience like no other.
The Hollow ~ I made a concerted effort to see more locally-based theatre towards the end of this year and fully intend on keeping to the same path next year. Especially as so many fantastic companies and theatres in the midlands and surrounding areas have embraced my little blog. The Hollow was the first of two Agatha Christie plays I saw at Stoke Repertory Theatre and I loved it. A strong cast, some of whom were familiar to me and others who I’m so pleased to have discovered. I’m looking forward to seeing more of United National Theatre Company’s work in the new year. They do great theatre and they are doing the Midlands proud.
All Our Children ~ My first trip to Jermyn Street Theatre and to see my lovely Rebecca Johnson being her amazing self on stage, too – a real treat. The play was a debut piece by Stephen Unwin who I am mostly familiar with as a Director. It was and remains one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences of my reviewing career to date. I enjoy theatre that challenges the way I think and this play offered the chance for that and much more. The easiest five stars I’ve ever pulled out of my bag of stars!
Blood Brothers is one of Break A Leg’s favourites and it’s always a joy to review the show, the dynamics are different each time and yet the overall drama, comic timing and splendour of the production never waivers.
The story of the Johnstone twins who were separated at birth is led by the one and only Lyn Paul who has vocal ability which lends itself so perfectly to the role of Mrs Johnstone. Tell Me It’s Not True is a number which she has undoubtedly made her own. It’s fair to say that Mrs J fits Lyn Paul like a glove. Sarah Jane Buckley is a fine match for her as Mrs Lyons, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing Mrs Lyons now – and yet I was lucky enough to see her as Mrs Johnstone when she understudied the role (see review here: Sarah Jane Buckley Review) I don’t think I can elaborate on that experience any better than I did in that mini review!
I enjoyed the perspective I had on the set and backdrop on this occasion, I notice something different each time and I felt drawn in by the lights of Liverpool and particularly delighted in the ways in which the lighting accentuate the mood of the narrator (played terrifically by Chris Chisnall, so sinister and yet the softness of the heart of the character does shine through). Shoes Upon The Table is my absolute favourite song in the show, the strong, rousing beat of the music reflects the seriousness of the situation and I find its reprises are so in keeping with the nuances of the musical.
Sean Jones is an exceptional Mickey, from the 7 (nearly 8) year old with his hole-riddled pullover which he can pull down over his knees to the troubled and almost terrifying adult he becomes as a result of life’s twists and turns. Together with Mark Hutchinson as Edward, they have believable chemistry and the relationship with Linda (Danielle Corlass) has so many dimensions, its a clever little web. It’s clear that Linda loves both of the boys but in widely different ways and I feel sure that had the shoe been on the other foot, she would have had her heard turned by Mickey for different reasons leaving ‘Eddie’ jealous and suspicious.
The ensemble who play numerous roles between them should also be commended for the slickness with which they move from character to character. Graham Martin, Graeme Kinniburgh, Andy Owens, Alison Crawford, Tim Churchill and Amy-Jane Ollies make a tight-knit group who are each responsible for keeping the action flowing. I especially enjoyed Daniel Taylor’s portrayal of Sammy, I think he’s the best I’ve seen in the role.
This musical will continue to stand the test of time, I’m confident of that, and with popular tunes such as Marilyn Monroe, My Child and Easy Terms at the helm – it’s not difficult to see why the show packs houses out all over the UK.
This isn’t a review as such, more of a collection of thoughts following another fantastic trip to see Blood Brothers. This time I made my ‘debut’ in the audience in De Montfort Hall, Leicester and I wasn’t there in my usual capacity as a reviewer. The opportunity to see Sarah Jane Buckley, (who usually has a breakdown on stage eight shows a week as the well to do Mrs Lyons) play Mrs Johnstone was too good to pass up and words can’t describe how excited I was to finally be able to see her in the role.
Had I been officially reviewing I would have given the show five stars, without a shadow of a doubt. Blood Brothers is one of my all-time favourite musicals and I still jump at the end of the show, every time! Of course, I cry too – great big fat tears because of the sorry ending which we are being led towards from the opening scene and because the music is so beautifully moving. Last night I was moved to tears because Sarah Jane was so spectacular as the leading lady.
Mrs Johnstone is the lynchpin in the story, there wouldn’t be a tale to tell without her, after all. The musical numbers that she sings are classics, from Tell Me It’s Not True to Easy Terms and every actress who’s taken on the coveted role has put their own stamp on the part.
Sarah Jane played the role with brashness yet gentility, she was straight-talking yet with an obvious heart of gold and she magnificently highlighted every nuance and trait which Mrs J encompasses. Not only was her characterisation remarkable in itself, but Sarah Jane’s vocal ability appears to know no bounds. I particularly noted how incredible her version of A Light Romance, was. I often feel that the song blends into the background as our attention is focused on Linda and Eddie, however I was drawn to Mrs Johnstone and the stunning rendition of the song being performed.
Tell Me It’s Not True is, of course the piece de resistance, and like all who have gone before her, Sarah Jane put her own stamp on that number and indeed, on the role itself. I never say no to a return visit to watch Blood Brothers, I’m always happy to run back for another amazing experience at the theatre. However, I will sprint to the theatre at top speed if Sarah Jane is playing the lead again. I have thoroughly enjoyed the performances from all the Mrs Johnstones that I have had the great pleasure of watching through the years – but I can safely say that Sarah Jane Buckley is MY Mrs J.
Sarah Jane Buckley is a name that has been familiar to me since she first burst onto our television screens as Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks back in 2005. Hollyoaks is one of those soaps that many deem to be their guilty pleasure. I’d say I’m the sort of viewer who feels guilty about not being able to watch it as often as I’d like and find it a pleasure to watch when I do get around to it! Kathy was always a favourite character of mine and I’m delighted that she is making a brief return to the show, even if it is under tragic circumstances.
Since August last year, Sarah Jane has been entertaining audiences up and down the country as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers. It’s a show I’ve seen many times and it continues to be a firm favourite of mine, I can honestly say that Sarah Jane is one of the best I’ve seen in the role of Mrs Lyons and I have my fingers crossed that she’ll return in the role when the tour kicks off again after the summer.
Having the opportunity to interview Sarah Jane was a real pleasure, so without further ado, here’s what she had to say about her recent performing experience on stage and in front of the camera.
Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, you’re making a brief return to the role of Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks, what are you able to tell me about Kathy’s come-back?
I’m back for Amy’s funeral (Kathy’s daughter), she has been murdered and we don’t know who’s done it – not even I know who’s done it so I can’t tell you! Sadly I didn’t get to film with Ashley Slanina-Davies who plays Amy as the character had passed away by the time I got there for filming.
How did it feel to return to the set? Did it feel like you’d never been away?
Actually it did feel as if I’d never been away, a lot of the team are back – some left and have come back and some are still there, so a lot of the crew were the same. Tony Hirst who played my husband was also back, Zoe (Lister) who wrote the episode had been asked by the producers to write herself back in, and she’s also a friend of mine. So being in the episode with them felt quite familiar as we’d all been in it together all those years ago. I felt completely welcomed which was amazing, but it was quite a tough time because I was filming at the same time as appearing in Blood Brothers. My partner picked me up outside the theatre at 10:30pm and drove me up to Liverpool where I would then have three hours sleep and go into the studio, he would then pick me up outside the door and drive me to the venue for the matinee or evening performance of Blood Brothers. If it hadn’t have been for him I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I was so happy and excited to be back in Hollyoaks and to be able to do both jobs at the same time. I was so lucky.
What’s your dream job?
To be behind the bar of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street is my dream gig, it always has been. Or behind the bar in Emmerdale, either of those pubs will do! I’d go back to Hollyoaks full time at the drop of a hat, though, I love Hollyoaks.
Moving on to your recent stage work, you joined the cast of Blood Brothers last year – what has that experience been like and how familiar were you with the show before you joined the cast?
I was super-familiar because I’ve been a fan since 1988 when I was at Guildford Drama School, I went to see it and Kiki Dee was in it with Con O’Neill. I have always wanted to be in it and I feel lucky to have the chance to be on that stage hearing the music and to work with Lyn Paul who is an amazing Mrs Johnstone.
You’re playing the role of Mrs Lyons but you understudy the role of Mrs Johnstone and have played her, are you keen to move on to play her, eventually?
Absolutely, I’d love to take on that role – I love playing Mrs Lyons, it’s a great part and an acting part which is what I do but as I’m also a singer it’s a lovely opportunity to do both, really.
Do you have a favourite moment or highlight in the show or does that change from performance to performance?
I think it does change because we have such different audiences in for every performance and there are spine-tingling moments at every point. Some days it’s when we’re singing ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ and you can feel the audience’s passion and emotion and sometimes it’s the scenes where I’m working with Tim Churchill and Mark Hutchinson who play my husband and son. There are moments there that are very tender and there are so many of those in the show, it’s such good drama.
I feel that I get something different from the show every time I watch it…
I do as a performer, too because that’s the joy of live theatre, you get the chance to have another go and to change it.
So, finally, what else is next for you?
I’m going to have a rest for a month, see my partner, my family and friends and then hopefully the autumn will bring the next tour of Blood Brothers (nothing is confirmed yet). I have felt so lucky to have been part of this Blood Brothers tour and to have been directed by Bill Kenwright for the gala performance in Liverpool last year.
Of course in this business you never know what’s going to come through the door, you can be unemployed on a Friday and working on a Monday.
I want to extend my thanks to Sarah Jane for taking time out to chat to me, I really hope she’ll be back as Mrs Lyons (and eventually, Mrs Johnstone) and I can’t wait for Hollyoaks at 6:30 pm tonight! Kathy Barnes is back!Sarah Jane also does panto every year so Break A Leg will let you know as soon as we have news on which one she will appear in this year.
Blood brothers runs at Coventry Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 11 March 2017 prior to the rest of the UK tour, to book tickets visit:Blood Brothers Tour
Star rating: *****
Blood Brothers is my favourite musical bar none, I have yet to find any show that has the capacity to bring me to my feet within a split second when the crowd gives the guaranteed standing ovation. This show makes me laugh, cringe, cry and after expressing my undying elation for the brilliance of the cast, I could quite happily sit back down and watch it all again. Although I realise that it would be an impossible task to ask the cast to do that! An emotionally draining piece it certainly must be and at curtain call, so many of the wonderful performers still appear to be caught up in the last few moments of the production.
The story tells the sorry tale of the Johnstone twins, Mickey and Edward who are separated at birth after their mother makes a bargain with her employer. Their lives intertwine despite their mothers’ best intentions and it makes for a hilarious, heartening and tragic story. The cast perform as a solid ensemble and each key member has the ability to make you believe that they are children who steadily grow up throughout the duration of the show. The knowledge that the saga won’t end well is something we are provided with from the first scene, yet it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the drama as it unfolds. The scenes from Mickey and Eddie’s childhood are among my favourites, especially when they’re jumping on and off their ‘horses’.
This particular incarnation of the production stars Lyn Paul, one of the original and best Mrs Johnstones, she slips into character like its a second skin and the emotion she brings to the role is immense. Her voice carried beautifully around the packed auditorium and she’s lost none of the power that her vocal ability is renowned for. Sarah Jane Buckley matches her note for note and strength for strength as Mrs Lyons, Buckley was new to the role the last time I saw her. She was extraordinary back then but she has taken her performance to a different level, now. Pitch perfect, an actress de force and the transiton from desperate to joyous to raving mad is a measured and deliberate one. I can’t speak highly enough about her. Alison Crawford stepped into the role of Linda as understudy and she absolutely made the role her own. From portraying the character as a little girl to the troubled grown up, every nuance was there in abundance. One to watch for sure and I hope to see her play the part again.
Sean Jones is the best Mickey I have seen, he has precise comic timing to enable him to portray the young lad but he transforms completely when he’s all grown up. I haven’t seen Mark Hutchinson as Eddie before, but he played the role as a stark contrast to his brother and was a good choice as the more well to do of the pair. Jones and Hutchinson demonstrate strong vocal harmonies, especially in ‘That Guy’. Dean Chisnall is an imposing presence as the Narrator, his vocal ability never ceases to amaze me and he sings my favourite song ‘Shoes Upon The Table’ with power and venom. He slinks back into the shadows so that you almost forget he’s there. then creeps up again to remind the two mothers what they’ve done. Tim Churchill moves seamlessly between roles, playing a ramrod straight and frightfully posh Mr Lyons then transforming into Milkman, doctor and so on! He and Graham Martin are real chameleons of the piece as they take a variety of parts and give each the care and attention that they deserve. In Martin’s case, he starts off as Mr Johnstone, reappears as a kid on the street, plays two very different teachers and a well endowed and randy judge! Actors like this pair are the life-blood running through such a well-oiled machine as this popular musical.
With a set that invites you in and frames the action whilst adding to the ambience and catchy musical numbers which include ‘Easy Terms’, ‘I’m Not Saying A Word’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ – I’d say the cast and crew give quite a show just like Marilyn Monroe!