Blood Brothers – Cheltenham Everyman REVIEW

This is the hardest review I have ever had to write.

As a reviewer you must remain subjective and professional, which I like to think I can often do. However in this specific post I will be turning into a blabbering and gushing mess (with good reason). Regular reviewing will resume shortly…

Blood Brothers was one of those shows that always seemed to slip me by. I never managed to get to see it despite being the die hard musical fan I am. I almost didn’t make it to this one, but boy, am I glad I went!

I’ll start with a few bold statements, and then go on to explain my claims.

  1. Blood Brothers managed to move me to tears, something very rarely, if ever, achieved.
  2. Blood Brothers is the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever seen.
  3. Blood Brothers is the BEST piece of theatre I have ever seen.

See? Gushing…but not hyperbole, I promise.

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I’ll start with the star. It was a joy to see an older woman leading the cast at the protagonist. Lyn Paul, famous for her time in the band New Seekers, has recently been crowned the ‘definitive Mrs Johnstone’, and it’s not hard to see why. Watching her age on stage as her tale is unravelled was incredibly realistic. From her acting and movement to the costume and hair and make up, it was spot-on and freakishly accurate. Her voice smashed the high notes and her emotional complexity ran deep. From the moment she stepped on stage, to wiping away her tears as they all took their bows, she commanded the stage with ease, stealing your hearts in exchange for giving up her child.

Mrs Johnstone‘s boys grow up worlds away, yet streets apart. Meeting at a crucial time in their lives which has repercussions for both their families but most importantly their mothers. Sean Jones portrayal of Mickey was outstanding. His rag-a-muffin, cowboy-imitatingcharacter was lovable and mischievous; always riding an imaginary horse whilst toting his pistol at his siblings. Similarly to Mrs Johnstone, watching him age from 7 to his late 20s was mind blowing, and you almost couldn’t believe what you were seeing as it was done so realistically. His twin, Eddie, was played by Mark Hutchinson and the dynamics between the pair was incomparable. Joined by Linda from down the street, the three are inseparable and are reminiscent of everybody’s much loved childhood pals.

I read somewhere that the narrator represents truth but for me, the narrator, played by Matthew Craig embodies both the deal made between the two mothers and the Devil himself. He is forever lurking in the shadows, over seeing the lives of the twins until one day taking his revenge. Never distracting but enough presence to create a blanket of tension that comes across the theatre when he enters. When listening closely to the lyrics he sings, it lets you delve deeper into the layers of the story which can be indulgently over analysed and interpreted.

You can see why this play is chosen as a GCSE studied text, not just because of the twelve rows of 15-year-olds sat behind me. It explores a time when a divide in the world had heavy implications upon millions of lives. Margaret Thatcher’s Liverpool was arun with riots and poverty, yet just down the street you could find luxury and grandeur. Not only does it analyse rich versus poor but also nature versus nurture, a hotly contested topic, particularly of that time. It has a circular narrative and strong, recognisable themes and motifs throughout, such as superstitious rituals and children learning about death. Each element of the story has a deeper meaning and is interlinked into the web of the characters. Scenes clash and contrast as if they tickle you one moment before slapping you in the face in the next. It’s deliciously clever and I cannot get enough of it.

When flicking through the musical number list in the programme prior to the show, my heart sank a bit. Six repeats of ‘Shoes on the table’ three of Marilyn Monroe and many others doubled up. My mind immediately went to the idea that the music was thinly spread. However, the repetition of the music only made it more powerful and changed its meaning to whichever context or setting it was applied to. The songs were catchy not boring, I could still sing you a chorus or too now, but I won’t. The numbers had a kind of ABBA feel to them, may not be to everybody’s taste, but you can’t deny it, they had some good tunes.

I think what got to me the most was that because all of these elements were so incredibly good and the story so believable, the experience as a whole felt real. I felt like I had grown up knowing Mickey from down the street and playing hopscotch with Linda. I sympathised with both Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons as they battled with each other for their children. I felt the pressure Mr Lyons was under at work. I experienced the social stigma that surrounded the town and divided the nearby streets. I was there.

I left with my hand clamped against my mouth, unable to converse with those around me. I tried so hard to hold back my tears throughout the show and as we filled out of the Everyman Theatre. Alas, as soon as I got in the car and it hit me what I had just witnessed, I bawled like a baby. I cannot emphasise enough that I am NOT a crier. I just couldn’t comprehend what had just happened and how I had just been whisked off to Liverpool for three hours (or 20 odd years) and intimately experienced such a heart wrenching world. It doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings, it obliterates them. Theatre at it’s finest.

The show satisfied the Drama student, the English student, theatre critic, music lover and audience member inside me. The combination of Willy Russell’s words and music combined with Bill Kenwright’s production is astounding. I simply do not have a bad thing to say about the show. It’s hilarious, tragic and the BEST show I have ever seen.

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