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.

 

My Top 10 Performers ~ 2017

Performers on stage… I’ve seen a few, but then again… no I’ve definitely seen a few and I’m full of admiration for so many of them. So, who made my top ten this year? Well I’ve had a difficult time whittling the list down but the top ten have each impressed me in ways that have continued to resonate as the year has worn on. Here we go, in no particular order!

Claire Machin ~ I think that The Girls has to be my favourite West End show of 2017 and although it didn’t make my top 5 shows list, it’s still up there as one of the highlights of my theatre-going calendar. I think Claire Machin was one of the crowning glories in that show and she’s also one of my favourite interviewees ever. I urge you to see this amazing lady on stage if you can, her voice, her tenacity and her energy are all infectious. She’s a star.

Daniel Taylor ~ I’ve seen this man in three different guises this year and excels in each of them. Whether he’s imitating Tommy Cooper, spitting and whining as Sammy in Blood Brothers are donning a pair of high heels and mocking Cinderella – he’s an actor de force and will always have my support. Amazing performer and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, not just in 2017.

Michele Dotrice ~ She’s been one of my favourite on screen actors for years and years, however seeing her in The Girls (twice!) has cemented her as one of my stage favourites too. She can sing, she has comic timing in abundance and she whipped her kit off live on stage too – my hero! I would say I’d like to see more of Michele on stage, however….!

 

Graham Martin ~  I’ve always admired Graham’s ability to play multiple roles in Blood Brothers to an extremely high standard (to the point where I feel the show wouldn’t be the same without him), but he also impressed me in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre. I’m only sorry to have missed his performance as the King in pantomime this year. Graham’s one of the finest triple threats in my humble opinion.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ Sarah Jane was my first ever favourite soap star, I’d not really had a favourite character in any of the soaps prior to Kathy Barnes rocking up in Hollyoaks and stirring things up. Sarah Jane is my favourite Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers too, however this year I also had the chance to see her play Mrs Johnstone when she stepped in for Lyn Paul. She was absolutely sensational, I could wax lyrical forever. I’ve also finally seen her in pantomime this season, which was another amazing experience. There’s nothing Sarah Jane can’t do, she’s a natural in every genre of performance.

Tim Churchill ~ Another Blood Brothers star who is my favourite Mr Lyons for sure, but who also starred in Stoke Repertory Theatre’s The Hollow and showed another element to his acting talent. It’s given me a taste of what other roles he would lend himself to, a very talented actor.

Cathy O’Reilly ~ I was really impressed by Cathy’s performance in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre, she can convey so much without words and the movement and fluidity she put into the role has stuck with me. She’s a talented actor who I’m keen to see perform in other roles in the future. I believe she would be able to play a variety of characters, this introduction has been the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Jones ~ I’ve watched Sean as Mickey in Blood Brothers many, many times and he is inspirational in the role. I feel every nuance of emotion in his performance. So he most definitely makes it to my list because he’s the best Mickey in my favourite musical. I also saw him in as Silly Billy at in Sleeping Beauty Rhyl Pavilion Theatre and he was amazing. Completely reminiscent of my favourite comedy stars whom I grew up watching with comic timing to rival any stand up comedian.

Amy Thompson ~ Amy was on my radar on Channel 5 as a Presenter on Milkshake! because I have a three year old, however last year I was blown away by her performance as Sleeping Beauty at Malvern Theatres. This year, I’ve watched her in the role again and she wowed me all over again, so for her sheer triple threat ability – she’s one of my top performers of 2017.

Robert Daws ~ I’ve always rated Robert Daws, another actor who began as an on-screen favourite then blew me away with his stage roles. How The Other Half Loves was an excellent fit for him, he conveys so much without words and embodies every character he portrays. I highly recommend catching him in a theatre production, I was only sorry not to have been able to have seen How The Other Half Loves again.

 

 

Sleeping Beauty ~ Rhyl Pavilion Theatre

Sleeping Beauty stays at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre until 6 January 2018 – BOOK NOW! www.rhylpavilion.co.uk/sleeping-beauty/

Star rating: ******

I’ve seen more than my fair share of Pantomimes this season – oh yes I have! I’m having a ball and I’ve liberally dished out the stars which have been richly deserved. However, I have found one which deserves more than five stars, and that’s Sleeping Beauty which is gracing the stage of Rhyl Pavilion Theatre.

I couldn’t find fault with this stunning spectacle if I tried and there’s not one weak link amongst an exceptional cast who each play a full role in the show. Unlike many shows I’ve seen before where a Fairy might only be seen for a few key scenes and a King would appear a handful of times – every character is at the hub of the perfectly paced production.

There’s a fantastic mixture of musical numbers and with Sarah Jane Buckley as Fairy Snowflake, Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse and Amy Thompson as Sleeping Beauty herself, at the helm, musically the show is already in superb hands. All three female leads have stunning vocal capability which they demonstrate to the maximum. Add Sean Jones to the mix as the hilarious Silly Billy and Chris Warner Drake as the Prince and the performance level is taken to another dimension. With Charles Burden as Nanny Glucose bringing a wealth of experience to the show and Sam Patrick making an excellent Pantomime debut.

The combination of modern material blended with traditional madcap pantomime high-jinx delighted the packed house and truly makes this a pantomime with something for everyone. Family orientated with jokes for adults and the smaller members of the audience.

The scenery is quite something, providing an elaborate backdrop fitting for the fairy tale. There are a few special effects which I won’t spoil, however the quality of the content means that effects are merely a bonus feature. Magic is created by every actor on stage who are each giving 110% to make this a pantomime de force.

The opportunities for audience participation are plentiful, the fourth wall is smashed, just as it should be. Sean Jones is nothing short of a comedy genius and his natural talent is reminiscent of the comedy heroes I grew up watching. Charles Burden’s Nanny Glucose is an able sidekick for Billy, a traditional Dame indeed with many quick changes and a superb range of costumes. Chris Warner Drake played the Prince as a solid, dependable hero and he was a perfect match for Amy Thompson as the gentile and beautiful Princess. I’ve seen Thompson as Sleeping Beauty previously and she never fails to impress me, she is one of the finest Pantomime Princesses I’ve seen. Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse was a revelation to me, such a seething, feisty and fiery baddie – Entwistle embraces the role and gave an outstanding performance. As for Sarah-Jane Buckley, she’s the epitome of magic, sparkle and silliness. She’s glitzy, glittery and also offers precise comic timing and a West Country accent! The best Fairy in Panto-land, in my humble opinion.

If you’re in need of a post-Christmas pick-me-up then this seaside extravaganza is just the ticket and you’ve got just over a week to see it.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ My Mrs J (Blood Brothers ‘Review’)

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.

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!

 

Blood Brothers ~ Malvern Theatres

At Malvern Theatres http://www.malvern-theatres.com until Saturday 17 September then touring: http://www.kenwright.com/index.php?id=590

Star Rating: *****

Lyn Paul is described as the definitive Mrs Johnstone and last night, I saw the reason for this accolade, as she brought the house down in Blood Brothers at Malvern Theatres. It appeared that not one person in the packed auditorium in Malvern remained seated as the audience collectively rose  to their feet in one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations I have ever seen in my blogging career!

The musical follows the story of the Johnstone twins who are separated at birth, Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) needs a reprieve from having too many hungry mouths to feed and Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) is desperate to have a baby. The Lyons family are very well to do and Mrs Johnstone reluctantly agrees to the bargain for what she believes are the right reasons. The decision haunts both women and becomes even harder to ignore when the estranged brothers, Mickey (Sean Jones) and Edward (Joel Benedict) meet, befriend one another and decide to be ‘blood brothers’. Given their very different upbringings, this is a turn of events that is wholly unexpected for Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons. There are plenty of giggles along the way, though, despite the dark presence of the narrator (Dean Chisnall) and the feeling of impending doom which will surely result from this deal. The score is also incredible and the cast as an ensemble have the perfect range of vocals to give the wow factor to every musical number.

blood-brothers-1
Mrs Johnstone and her estranged twins

Blood Brothers has a huge following and the cast usually has minimal changes as a new tour starts. Graham Martin, for example, has been part of the cast for the past few tours and he is a popular member of the ensemble. He brings superb comic charters to life, whether it be as Mr Johnstone, head teachers from two very different schools,  the local bobby or a rather randy judge. New members of the cast for this tour are Sarah Jane Buckley, who gave an ovation-worthy performance as Mrs Lyons. Watching her progress through the transition of emotions as Mrs Lyons loses control, was an awe-inspiring experience. Adam Search was a dream as Sammy, he was bullish, sulky and entirely believable as one of the Johnstone children, at every age that he played. Dean Chisnall was the epitome of a silent assassin as he skulked around the stage after Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons. My favourite number in the show is Shoes Upon The Table and Chisnall certainly did this justice, and then some!

Danielle Corlass is my favourite Linda, I’ve seen the show a few times and she manages to combine heart, warmth, silliness and gives an incredibly emotive performance, too. Joel Benedict warmed my heart as Edward, I’m Not Saying A Word was one of the highlights of the show for me. Benedict is hilariously up tight when he first appears beside Mickeys front step and tells the character’s story truthfully and with charm. In contrast, Sean Jones is cheeky, bolshie and has stunning vocal ability. Long Sunday Afternoon is delivered brilliantly by Jones and he duets beautifully with Benedict during My Friend and That Guy. As for Lyn Paul, she IS Mrs Johnstone, whether she’s lending her exceptional voice to Marilyn Monroe, Easy Terms or Tell Me It’s Not True.

If you’ve never seen this show before, I urge you to buy a ticket to see this on tour. If you’ve seen it before, I can testify that the cast changes have enhanced the existing line up and you won’t regret another trip to see this outstanding musical.

 

 

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