Monday, 15 February 2016

"Blood Brothers"
Nottingham Theatre Royal

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that this is my all time favourite musical. I've seen the show several times and the emotion still gets to me, as it does the cast as well.

For anyone who doesn't know the story it's all about Mrs Johnstone who has several children and takes a job cleaning for Mrs Lyons. Just as she is making ends meet, Mrs J discovers that she is pregnant again, with twins. An agreement is struck between the two women that when the twins are born Mrs J would give one of the babies away to her employer, Mrs Lyons, who has discovered that she is having problems conceiving. Mrs Lyons then sacks Mrs Johnstone and moves away to the country with her husband and Eddie, the twin to Mickey. Thinking that this has seperated the two forever turns out to be far from what she had planned.

The story is one of the most powerful in British theatre and, like a game of football, it's in two halves. the first being high spirited and comical with the adults playing the kids. Life is carefree for the kids but not so much for the parents. Act One ends on a high, giving no premise to the dark act two to come. Although this musical is 29 years old, it's still as fresh today and covers the subjects of depression and murder, secrets and superstition, which is why it's one of the most popular musicals today. And there's not many musicals who can turn the atmosphere around as fast as this one with its' subject matter.

Lyn Paul plays Mrs Johnstone, and in my eyes the definitive Mrs J. Lyn has the most amazing voice still, and legs to match. She looks good and throughout the show we see her age gracefully. We also see her turn the emotions on and off and her finale of "Tell Me It's Not True" still had the hairs on the back of my neck up, and a tear to my eye. It always does and I hope that it always will. I've seen a few actors play Mrs Johnstone but there is only one Lyn Paul.

Mickey, the youngest of the clan and the twin that Mrs J brought up, was played by Sean Jones, who I've only ever seen Mickey played by. Sean switches from the young Mickey to the older, teenage Mickey from a fun-loving seven, nearly eight year old, typical naughty kid to the depressed ex jail-bird dependent pill popper frighteningly well, And it's frightening honest in its' portrayal of what could happen when the cards don't fall in your favour.

Mickey's twin, Eddie is brought up by the well to do Mr and Mrs Lyons. he has the best of everything. he goes to the right schools, university and lands himself with a well paid job, all the while unaware that he and Mickey are twins. Joel Benedict makes his professional debut in this role and he does a cracking job. Full of character.

Paula Tappenden returns to the role of Mrs Lyons, and I'm not sure if it's just me, but i think this role shows the rapid decline into paranoia better than I've seen before. There's a more defined spiralling into madness as she attempts to protect the secret she holds and is desperate to hide. Mrs Lyons is also shows more clearly in this production, or maybe I didn't notice before, that she seems to be the only one who can see "the devil" that is the narrator.

Kristofer Harding plays the narrator, and to start with I thought it a bit strange that there was no scouse accent for the narrator, but what i also noticed was that Kristofer added a certain amount of menace and threat to the role. Taunting evilly Mrs Lyons and her guilt as he sneeringly told the story. A deliciously dark character which brought out the impending danger of the play.

Was it just me but did Peter Washington look just a little bit too old to be playing Sammy the elder brother? Not that he didn't do a good job, it just jangled a bit for me as all of the other "kids", even though we knew they were adults, looked suitably younger. Peter played the bullying elder brother with a talent for an accurate aim of spit with great playfulness.

Linda, the love interest for Mickey, and lust interest of Eddie, was played by Danielle Corlass, who theatre goers may recognise from her appearances at the Nottingham Playhouse over the years. I can see the attraction there with Linda!

All the characters seemed to age really well thoughout the play and you can see the gradual change in their character and attitude to their different upbringing and surroundings.

Must also mention Graham Martin who played just about every other character in the musical. it was almost a game of spot which characters he didn't play!

They say the director is the glue that holds a show together and if that's the case, Bob Tomson is the equivalent of the extra strong variety. Wonderfully tight show with a great sense of comic timing and brooding, menacing atmosphere. Great pace and use of "dead space" to create that particular air of expectancy. 

The sound was so clear, again creating an atmosphere with the echo chamber on the songs that gave the words an eeriness i'd not really noticed that much in past productions. Dan Samson is the sound designer. the orchestra as well were top class, with an amazing percussion section, with the MD being Phil Gostelow and musical supervisor being Tom De Keyser.

There are some brilliant music pieces in "Blood Brothers". Every musicals fan will know "Tell Me It's Not True", but listen to the comedy in "Marilyn Monroe", the hope in "Brand New Day", the brooding superstition laden "Shoes On The Table", the sadness and loss of "My Child" and the loneliness of "Long Sunday Afternoon".

I've loved the show from the first time I saw it. There aren't too many musicals that feature depression, job loss, class divide, deceit, superstition, dependency, crime, armed robbery and close with a double death that gives so much emotion and entertainment value, as well as many many laughs, but this is why this show is in a class of its' own.

"Blood Brothers" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 20 February 2016. Please experience this unforgettable piece of theatre as soon as you can.

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