Blood Brothers ~ Malvern Theatres

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

Photo credits: Robert Day

Blood Brothers ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

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.

 

Blood Brothers ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

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.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone

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!

 

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