Note: These are old reviews and the cast has now changed!!
The cast I saw consisted of Lyn Paul, Keith Burns, Andy Snowden and Mark Hutchinson. Lyn Paul, as Mrs Johnstone, has joined after playing the role in the national tour, and she is perfect in the part. Her singing voice is just right, and all the emotion she put into the show seemed real. Her laugh when Mickey and Eddie went off to see "Nymphomaniac Nights" and "Swedish Au-pairs" could have been genuine, and if it wasn't, her tears during "Tell Me It's Not True" certainly were. Keith Burns was the Narrator, and although he was an excellent singer, he is perhaps more suited to something where he doesn't speak to the audience, as he began in musical theatre (Les Mis). Also, the high notes seemed a bit strained.
Understudy Andy Snowden was absolutely fantastic as Mickey. He was splendid as the mischievous youngster, and also as the troubled adult. Throughout the show, his delivery of lines was flawless and his comic timing superb.
Mark Hutchinson was also brilliant as posh twin Eddie. It was a shame the music and backing vocals drowned him out in his big solo, "I'm Not Saying A Word". He looked so comfortable in the role that it made it even more of a pleasure to watch.
Perhaps the main thing that pulled it all together was the interaction between members of the cast. It was possible to imagine that Mickey and Eddie, or Mark and Andy, were actually brothers, and that Mrs J was their mother.
Those in supporting roles were also fntastic: Sarah Hay as Mrs Lyons was wonderfully bitchy, and Emily-Machelle Watkins made a brilliant Linda. Parts such as the Milkman who becomes the Gynaecologist, and the teacher raised a great response from the capacity audience. The music was, of course, beyond words.
As people left for the interval and at the end, I heard people saying things like "Isn't it fantastic?", or leaving in complete, stunned silence, either through emotion or awe. They were right - it is fantastic, and the audiences snivelling during "Easy Terms" and "Tell Me It's Not True", and laughs during Mickey's poem in act one, or Eddie's retort to his teacher in act two (you'll have to go and see it, it can't be printed here!!), were all perfectly justified. Believable acting, fantastic delivery and brilliant direction all made for a truly memorable night out.
I see no reason why it shoudn't run for at least another 10 years. If you haven't seen it yet - WHY NOT?!
Blood Brothers, a musical by Willy Russell is the story of twin brothers, separated at birth. One grows up with Mrs Johnstone, his natural Mother, a working class well meaning woman, who has more children than she can afford, struggling as a single parent. The other is given to his Mothers employer, a devious woman, who abuses her middle class station, wealth,and superior intelligence to manipulate this less fortunate woman. The twins meet by chance, and despite their very different backgrounds, find some sort of bonding, first becoming firm friends, and in turn, upon discovering they were born of the same day, becoming "blood brothers". This relationship though harmless in childhood, causes complications in later adult life, with some tragic consequences.
This is a deceptive piece. It's tuneful music, simple lyrics and lighthearted scenes in the first act where the children (all played by adults) are having fun give the impression of a feel good musical, but having lulled the audience into a false sense of security, the piece twists and turns in Act two and becomes less a comedy, more a tragedy.
David Soul, best remembered from the 70's detective series "Starsky and Hutch", is doing a three week stint as the narrator. It is a strange piece of casting, and a mistake in my opinion. This American has great difficulty with the Liverpool Accent, starting off Scottish and becoming more and more Irish as the piece moved on. Also this television actor has great problems adapting his craft from screen to stage, he knows he has to be bigger but doesn't know how to achieve this without overacting. There were many empty seats, so if he was cast as an audience puller it has backfired.
Mrs Johnstone is played superbly by Siobhan McCarthy, a versatile actress who is very affable as this dowdy mother. Her wealth of experience in musical theatre shines through as she glides through role effortlessly. Sarah Hay provides a good contrast in her effective portrayal of Mrs Lyons, the two worked together beautifully.
Mickey, the son that remains with his real mother, is a crucial pivot around which the show revolves, and Stephen Palfreman gave a performance to be proud of. He was so likeable as the tearaway seven year old, had fantastic comedy timing, and managed the switch from carefree child to struggling adult with major social problems very convincingly. He had the audience in the palm of his hand with his powerful eye contact.
I have seen most of the Eddie's (the middle class twin) that have appeared in this nine year run, and it is great to see the best (in my opinion) return. This is a difficult part which Mark Hutchinson tackles well. Others in this role have appeared, camp, stupid or obnoxious, but Hutchinson knows exactly how to tackle this role. His relationship with Mickey is real, completely believable, causing the later tragedy to have much more of an impact. He won a Drama Desk award for this role in the original Broadway production, it is blatantly obvious why.
The story rattles along at a cracking pace, helped by Bob Thomson's slick direction, Marty Flood's simple but effective composite set, Jon Swain's dramatic and atmospheric lighting plot, and a multi-talented ensemble who each play a number of smaller parts. If you have not yet seen this production, I recommend you do, as I feel it is one of the most entertaining productions currently in the West End, and judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation, the rest of the audience wholeheartedly agreed with me
(Jason L Belne)