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Telling the captivating and moving story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret, Blood Brothers is a work of art brought to life by Willy Russell, one of this country’s leading contemporary dramatists.
The audience were greeted with a deafening silence when the curtain lifted, until a mother’s heart-rending scream broke through. Those wanting to avoid spoilers were forced to witness the ending much sooner than expected, before the audience were taken back in time to see what came before.
Linzi Hately plays Mrs Johnstone, a Liverpudlian mother struggling not only to make ends meet, but also with her moral compass. She makes the fateful decision to give away one of her twin boys to her employer Mrs Lyons. Her performance was believable and utterly incredible. Despite her mistakes, it was obvious that she loved her children and wanted the best for them.
Early on, the unscrupulous Mrs Lyons tells Mrs Johnstone that if two separated twins ever realise that they are related, they will both die instantly. Foreshadowing and superstition continue to play a huge role throughout with the narrator’s (Robbie Scotcher) reprise of ‘Shoes Upon The Table’ haunting the cast. The musical number was brash, loud, heavy and extremely impactful.
Seeing adult actors portray Mrs Johnstone’s children was a breath of fresh air. The cast grouped together to roleplay playground favourites from the 1980s like ‘Cowboys vs Indians’, and shoot catapults or air rifles at targets – all activities that are now considered politically incorrect or dangerous. Alexander Patmore, as a seven-year-old (read: nearly eight) Mickey Johnstone, had the room in fits of laughter and ever so slight disgust at his antics, but boys will be boys.
Growing up in a council estate in Liverpool, Mickey and his siblings were typical working-class youngsters and had to endure hardship. Going to bed hungry, wearing dishevelled clothes and seeing baliffs removing goods were the norm. Worlds apart, Eddie Lyons grew up on the other side of town in a big house, never wanting for anything. The casting was spot on and it was clear that Joel Benedict had played the role of privileged Eddie Lyons before.
The twins may have been raised in vastly different circumstances, but they had a genetic bond that drew them together. The boys soon discovered that they had the same birthday and make a pact to become blood brothers, with the truth unbeknownst to them.
Tale of Two Halves
There was a slight technical issue at the interval, but the technicians at Leeds Grand Theatre were quick to resolve this and ensure the show could go on – phew!
Part two saw the twins growing older and their bond strengthening, only to deteriorate when the economic realities of society send the boys on different paths. Privileged Eddie had doors opened due to his wealth, while Mickey struggled to become financially independent and remained trapped in a poverty-stricken area where crime seemed to be the only answer.
Towards the end of the musical, a hostage situation ensued. The blind rage of the perpetrator and the altercation taking place was so captivating and well executed that the audience did not notice what else was happening. It is rare to see a scene that absorbs all attention, but Willy Russel is an expert at what he does and dramatised Blood Brothers to perfection.
Touching on themes of mental health, class, nature vs nurture and fate, it’s no surprise that Blood Brothers has stood the test of time and is hailed as ‘one of the best musicals ever written’ by the Sunday Times. I’d even go as far as to argue that it is the best, and based on the five-minute standing ovation, I’d also argue that I’m not alone in my thinking.
Blood Brothers is showing at Leeds Grand Theatre between Tuesday 7 and Saturday 18 May 2019.