Blood Brothers Review

Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins.

By Manchester's Finest | 6 September 2013

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“Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins.
Of one womb born on the self same day, how one was kept and one given away.”

Blood Brothers

As the lights fade and the Narrator begins his introduction to Blood Brothers you know that over the next two hours you will be transported back to the streets of Liverpool to ride an emotional rollercoaster full of laughter and tears. Blood Brothers is a show I know well, having seen it on many occasions, but it still manages to tug at the heart strings. It delivers a story so powerful and effortless it is no surprise it is celebrating its 28th year in Theatreland and has been seen by millions worldwide.

“Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins.
Of one womb born on the self same day, how one was kept and one given away.”

The story centres around Mrs Johnstone, played superbly and sensitively by Maureen Nolan, a working class housewife who gives birth to twin boys and is urged to give one away to the woman she cleans for who is unable to conceive. The highly superstitious Mrs Johnstone swears on the bible and ‘the dye is cast a bond is made’ which sets up a moving ‘nature or nurture’ story of how much the two boys lives contrast. Mickey, is brought up in abject poverty and his twin Edward (Eddie) is raised in the upper-class household of the Lyons family. The boys meet innocently and become friends not knowing that they are siblings and they seal their bond with the ritual cutting of each other’s finger, shaking hands, as they become ‘Blood Brothers’.

Throughout the show we are made aware of the superstition by the sinister Narrator, portrayed by Warwick Evans, that if the two boys ever find out their true identity they will both die on that same day. Evans has a rasping ‘Scouse accent giving his character a real foreboding presence on stage as he excels in conveying the story through simple monologues and song. Upper-class mother Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer) is haunted by Evans throughout the show as he makes it clear her dark secret ‘could’ be unearthed at any minute and destroy her and her ‘son’ Eddie’s life.

The childhood scenes are all played excellently by the adult cast with Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Mark Hutchinson) keeping the audience captivated with performances that have you laughing out loud to moments of heartbreak. Both actors are veterans of their prospective roles and it’s easy to see why they were chosen for the shows last ever performance at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre. Jones lights up every scene as the carefree young Mickey, his comic timing bringing out the humour of Willy Russell’s script and in stark contrast he expertly delivers the darker scenes in the second half of the show as he battles with love, loss and depression. Olivia Sloyan, who plays Linda, is also perfectly cast as she helps cement the relationship between the twins throughout but ultimately whose undying love for both brings about their untimely and dramatic end.

A special mention must go to Maureen Nolan as this was her first night on the current tour since she lost her brave sister Bernie, (who had also played the role of Mrs.Johnstone), to cancer. From the opening scenes until the final tragic ending Maureen had the audience in the palm of her hands and collectively hugging her. As she sank to her knees singing ‘Tell Me it’s Not True’ at the finale the heartbreaking lyrics resonated around the auditorium and every ounce of emotion poured out of her. The cast took 3 well deserved standing ovations but the biggest cheer was left for Nolan who came out on her own for the final curtain call sobbing and, as she punched her hand up to the heavens, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Willy Russell has written a timeless masterpiece with Blood Brothers which in 28 years has changed very little and considering he wrote not only the script but the music as well it is a testament to his standing as one of Britain’s much loved storytellers. I would recommend anyone to see this show if you haven’t done already, the journey will captivate you in every way and the story will live with you long after the final curtain falls. So, ‘if you’ve never heard the story of the Johnstone twins’ make sure you don’t miss Blood Brothers.

Blood Brothers runs at the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays until Saturday 7th September.