Thursday, 7 February 2019

REVIEW: Blood Brothers - The Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield.

“Did you hear the tale of the Johnstone twins, as two new pins? Of one womb born on self-same day, how one was kept and one given away.”

It’s been two years since Blood Brothers last played at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre, with that previous tour being the first time I saw what is arguably one of greatest musicals ever written. Willy Russell’s iconic musical may be over thirty years old, however it still manages to feel fresh and relevant in the current economic climate. The story, set in 1960s Liverpool, focuses on class and the divide between rich and poor - how Mickey - the twin kept by Mrs. Johnstone - went on to ending up in jail, becoming dependent on antidepressants and being at rock bottom, whilst his “blood brother” - grew up believing Mrs Lyons was his maternal mother, grew up living a privileged lifestyle; private schooling, never short of money, going on to University and later becoming a Councillor. It isn’t until it is too late that the two brothers learn the truth....with devastating consequences.

I was pleased to see some family faces returning to their roles for this tour. Reprising the role of Edward “Eddie” Lyons, Mark Hutchinson portrays a charming and loveable character who when he meets Mickey for the first time, aged “seven, nearly eight”, is instantly hooked, the pair forming an instant strong bond, commonly seen in twins (of course the pair have no idea they’re related, let alone twins). Eddie is sweet and innocent with a strong sense of emotion and empathy whereas Mickey - (Sean Jones reprising the role once more), is foul mouthed, ill mannered and the sort of child most mothers wouldn’t want their child mixing with.

Jones’ transition into adult Mickey, suffering with mental health issues, still living in poverty when the job he’s managed to hold down for so long comes to an abrupt end in the midst of the 1980s recession, is a powerful and poignant one. You can sense the disappointment in his face as he is driven into crime to fund his wife and childhood friend Linda (Danielle Corlass, again another cast member reprising the same role), with their first child being due soon.

Robbie Scotcher adds the ongoing suspense as the Narrator; dressed smartly in a dark suit Scotcher floats around the stage throughout the story, rarely leaving the stage, creeping in along with the eerie sinister music just when the audience is lead to believe all is going well for the two brothers; reminding us all of the tragedy to come. He’s witty in parts but deathly frightening in others.

Also reprising her role as Mrs. Lyons is Sarah Jane Buckley, who gives one the impression that Mrs Lyons - a wealthy woman who employs Mrs Johnstone as her cleaner and convinces her to give one of the unborn twins to her as she is unable to conceive - is a victim rather than a villain. She’s superstitious (“Shoes on the table”) and this, along with the ongoing fear that her son will learn the truth or that her “son” will be forcefully removed from her care, is driven into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression.

Linzi Hately exceeded my expectations as Mrs. Johnstone; the first time I saw the musical I wasn’t able to warm to the character however Hately brought a certain warmth to the role - you instantly sympathised with her - a mother to seven kids and struggling to clothe and feed them all yet still showing her devotion to each of her children, trying her best to raise them single handedly. Her children may have been off the rails but it wasn’t through bad parenting, just growing up in extreme poverty which drove her sons to a life of crime. Vocally you could feel the emotion in each and every word, there wasn’t a dry house during “Tell Me It’s Not True”.

Andy Walmsley’s set design is simple yet effective, conveying the divide between the classes realistically, however one slight niggle I have is with the exterior of the houses - when both families have moved to the countryside it’s the same rundown terraced houses but set to a backdrop of countryside - not the supposedly newly built houses the Johnston’s move into. This issue aside, this tour is a must see masterpiece of emotion. Blood Brothers will forever remain in my blood as one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 5/2/19

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