Writer: Willy Russell
Director: Bob Tomson
Duration: 2hrs 45mins
Details: Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0JP
Tube: Tottenham Court Road
In Full: You either think Willy Russell is a genius who understands the misunderstood soul of ordinaryville or a patronising charlatan who uses bland characters to illustrate some pretty simplistic social comment.
Most appear to go for the first option, as witness the Best Musical awards heaped on this show from the Society of West End Theatres, Drama Magazine, Ivor Novello and Play & Players.
I am also in the first camp, enjoying Blood Brothers immensely. The plot focuses on twins who are separated at birth, each to live absolutely opposite lives. Mickey lives in poverty with his biological mother, Mrs. Johnstone, who is constantly attempting and mostly failing at controlling her seemingly infinite number of children. Eddie is given to Mrs. Johnstone’s rich, conniving boss after the overloaded mother realises she can economically only keep one of the boys.
The first act is filled with laughs and shows the carefree world of childhood. The play continues to explore topics in class and economic relations, as well as a superstition, whilst transitioning to the heart-wrenching, real worldview of Act Two. It gets dark and tense as the plot accelerates.
The backbone of the cast is Maureen Nolan, whose Mrs. Johnstone is brilliant with her booming singing voice and maternal rapport. Richard Munday and Mark Hutchinson play Mickey and Eddie, respectively, and adequately bridge the gap as comedic 7-year-olds to serious, brooding men. Philip Stewart narrates and his commanding voice helps to keep the play moving along.
The crowd at the Phoenix responds very well to this compelling musical, evidenced in the shows ability to remain a West End favourite for sixteen years.
– Brandon Morgan
– “Grand ambitious melodrama, lined with sentiment and memorable songs.” Time Out
– “Likeable but overly sentimental low-concept musical. Some childish fun and easy songs leaven the Merseyside mood.” Nick Curtis, London Evening Standard