Wednesday 24 April 2024

Blood Brothers

 Curve, Leicester

23rd April, 2024

And only if we didn’t live in life, as well as dreams

A NY Times theatre critic recently said that the thing about live theatre is that it’s perpetually dying. That’s not the case with Blood Brothers. Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson’s production has been playing almost continually since the mid-80s. Willy Russell’s 1983 musical of twins separated at birth only to grow up on different sides of the track is an epic tale of class and superstition. Its original production closed after 6 months, but after Kenwright and Tomson picked up the reins, they reworked and refined the show on tour before taking it back into the West End in 1988. Alongside the show’s 24-year run in London (I was there on closing night in 2012!), the show has enjoyed UK tours and international productions. Even by the early 90s, when the show opened on Broadway, it had achieved ‘Now and forever’ status. In a successful attempt to whip up word of mouth about the show, Kenwright reportedly flew 87 guests from the UK to New York for the opening, including several London critics. He was arguably the show’s biggest champion and in return it’s probably his biggest hit. Blood Brothers is as strong as ever, with not only audience members returning but also cast members staying with the show for decades. The result is that both new and returning cast members breathe new life into it.

After agreeing to give one of her twins away to the upper-class lady she cleans for, the superstitious Mrs Johnstone is forced to make a pact. If either twin finds out they’re one of a pair, she’s convinced they’ll both immediately die. The next couple of hours condenses thirty years of their lives, from when they’re seven (nearly eight!), teenage friendships, and the hardships of their young adult lives set on the backdrop of the dole lines of Thatcher’s government. The cast do well to manage the fine line between melodrama and mawkish. As Mrs Johnstone, Niki Colwell Evans carries the show’s emotional intensity to its inevitably tragic end. She also has a powerhouse voice, especially in her vocal inflections in ‘Easy Terms’, her riffs in ‘Bright New Day’ and her performance in ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’. Complementing her throughout, Sarah Jane Buckley pitches a beautifully understated performance as Mrs Lyons. Scott Anson, returning to the role of the omniscient Narrator after 20 years, is a more menacing narrator than some past interpretations. Stalking the stage for much of the show, he really comes into his own in the monologues. The ‘Summer Sequence’, charting the highs and misbegotten dreams of being a teenager, is especially moving. But the heart of the show comes in the relationship between Mickey, Eddie (Joe Sleight) and the girl in the middle of the pair, Linda (Gemma Brodrick). Sean Jones has been playing Mickey since the 90s and charts the journey from youthful innocence to adult tragedy compellingly. He’s crafted his performance over 25 years but what’s refreshing is that he’s still as invested as the new cast members. From his brotherly bond with Eddie and awkward teenage presence with Linda, you can see him reacting in the moment to new things Sleight and Brodrick are bringing to their roles. It’s their innocence and the actors’ conviction to the show’s momentum which makes the ending so devastating. Timothy Lucas as Mickey's older brother Sammy also brings new ideas to the role.

Kenwright and Tomson keep the show moving at an impressive pace on Andy Walmsley’s multi-functional set, with the iconic Liver Building towering over the streets of terraced houses in the background. Russell's text is filled with motifs, echoes and parallels which their direction enhances. Hiding places for toy guns become hiding places for real guns, childhood jokes extend into adulthood, and Russell’s melodies and lyrics are cleverly reprised. Apart from a line that’s been understandably cut from the second act, the show remains the same now as it has for years. Whether Blood Brothers is a fan favourite to which they keep returning or a reluctant student’s gateway into theatre, it’s still a resounding success. Six months after his death, it remains one of Kenwright’s lasting legacies to British theatre.

Blood Brothers plays at Leicester’s Curve until 27th April as part of a UK tour. For further information, please visit

The cast of Blood Brothers. Credit: Jack Merriman

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