Willy Russell’s evergreen theatre classic Blood Brothers returned to The Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent this week.
This powerful story of class division, family ties and growing up remains as fresh and relevant today as it did when Russell wrote it 40 years ago.
The musical follows the story of the Johnstone twins, born to a poverty-stricken single mother, struggling to raise a large brood in Liverpool. In a desperate situation, she makes the devastating decision to give one of the twins to her employer, who is unable to have her own children.
Tragedy looms large over the play, with a sense of doom lurking behind the comedy that dominates the first half. With the ever-present superstitions and warnings of the devil coming from the shadowy narrator, played with excellent, haughty charisma by Richard Munday.
There is no doubting the pedigree of the script; the story and the presentation of the characters are trademark Willy Russell, but it is the strength of the performances that truly allow that to shine in this production. Taking centre stage as Mrs Johnstone, Niki Colwell Evans was phenomenal. Her voice was strong and packed with emotion, her performance being the beating heart of the show. Beyond the vocals that she has made her name from though, Colwell Evans brought a real sense of reality to the troubled life of this well-intentioned but luckless mother with her moving performance.
Likewise, Sean Jones bought an intensity to his portrayal of Mickey, switching effortlessly from a carefree, comedic child to a broken man, wrapped up in the miseries life has dealt him. His struggle, and the wider social story it represents, were powerfully conveyed in Jones’ every move on stage. His struggles juxtaposed with the cheery and earnest depiction of Eddie by Jay Worley, while Carly Burns was excellent as Linda in her journey from lively child to long-suffering wife.
Paula Tappenden gave a fantastically haughty and aloof performance as the cold, clingy Mrs Lyons, fighting her own desperate battle, with the support of Tim Churchill as Mr Lyons.
Timothy Lucas put in a scene-stealing performance as errant elder brother Sammy, playing for laughs to great effect in the earlier scenes.
Not your typical musical, Blood Brothers combines the powerful acting and strong, witty dialogue of a play with emotive songs that often come in bursts, helping to maintain the tempo and setting an emotional tone.
Among the songs is the classic ‘Tell Me it’s Not True’, which underneath the masterful hold of Colwell Evans becomes a masterful and heart-breaking finale. The emotional hold that this had on the audience was palpable as rapt silence gave way to a wave of people rushing to their feet for a standing ovation.
It is rare to experience such depths of emotion, even in live theatre, as the light-hearted laugh out loud scenes of the first half give way to the grave realities of a desperate life in the second half.
A real rollercoaster of emotion, presented by an outstanding cast, Blood Brothers is always worth watching and this superb production cements its excellent reputation. Catch Blood Brothers at The Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent this week, where it runs until Saturday, October 1. Find tickets online.