“How swiftly those who’ve made a pact, can come to overlook the fact. Or wish the reckoning be delayed. But a debt is a debt, and must be paid.”
Blood Brothers remains as fresh and relevant today as it did when the musical opened back in 1983. The Manchester leg of the tour runs for 2 weeks at the Opera House, ending 30th June although judging by the response from the audiences it could have happily been extended.Willy Russell’s epic musical tells the tale of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited, by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret.
Taking the lead as Mrs Johnstone is Maureen Nolan, of 70s singing sister group The Nolans. Any die hard fans of the show would know she’s not the only Nolan to take on the down trodden role, siblings Bernie, Denise and Linda have too – all equally as impressive. I’ve often wondered if they pass on advice to each other or spend family ‘get togethers’ having ‘Tell Me it’s Not True’ sing-offs (I’d pay good money to see that!)
There’s something about the Nolans that makes them perfect casting and I somehow can’t imagine seeing those modern day ‘pop stars turned musical theatre stars’ such as Spice Girl Mel C and Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton in the role. I’m sure those who have seen their performance might disagree but in my opinion Mrs Johnstone needs to look like she has ‘lived’ life and have a depth that tugs at your soul to make you feel her pain.
Now I said earlier that Blood Brothers is well loved but add to that the casting of former Wet Wet Wet star Marti Pellow as the Narrator and you have a even more of an anticipating buzz in the air before the curtain goes up with Marti fans coming out of the woodwork in their masses.
Considering Pellow has been in Blood Brothers since last November, including a stint on the West End stage, I have to admit I expected more from him. The role of the Narrator is pivotal in providing the dark menacing tone of the show but this is lost as soon as he utters his first lines and the accent that comes out is a cross between Scottish and Irish-definitely not the required ‘Scouse’. On the plus side he is vocally on the money in his musical rendition of the eerie tune ‘Shoes upon the table’.
The show-stopper of the piece for me has to be Sean Jones who plays one half of the ill fated twins, Mickey. Jones is captivating and a pleasure to watch, his journey from a young lad to a broken man is portrayed with such realism that the audience is mesmerized. I have to say I have never seen such a convincing Mickey (and I have seen a fair share).
As always with Blood Brothers the ensemble is strong, delivering Russell’s witty script with boundless energy as they take on a variety of supporting ‘character’ roles. A special mention to Kelly-Anne Gower (Linda) and Matthew Collier (Eddie) who are compelling as Mickey’s girlfriend and twin brother respectively.
A nod also to Daniel Taylor as the Johnstone’s rebellious older brother Sammy who steals many a scene with some great characterisation and a filthy penchant for spitting!
Blood Brothers is every bit as good now as it was back then. The show takes you on a rollercoaster of emotion through the hilarity and innocence of youth to the dramatic reality of social depression. The four curtain calls and standing ovation after a dramatic tear filled finale are testament to the enduring quality of this show.
So…’If you’ve never heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as alike as two new pins’…make sure you do very soon, you will not be disappointed!
Dates: Mon 18 – Sat 30 June
Venue: Opera House, Quay St, Manchester
Box Office: 0844 871 3018 *subject to booking fee
Images by Keith Patteson