One of the most successful and long running musicals ever comes to Storyhouse (tickets available https://www.storyhouse.com/event/blood-brothers) swatting away the pre opening negativity from a vocal online minority that Chester would “not get the big shows”. With the stage having shifted into its 800 seat mode at the start of the touring season, opening night saw a packed house with many school groups in attendance: how amazing to have this facility for young and first time theatre goers.
Willy Russell’s enduring classic required little introduction for this reviewer, having seen it both in the West End and at its spiritual home in Liverpool. Telling the tragic tale of two brothers separated at birth, their parallel lives divided by class and their eventual fate, so many of the songs will send shivers down your spine.
At the heart of the show is Mrs Johnston played by stage veteran Lyn Paul, dreaming of a better life for her large family on a Liverpool council estate. Ms Paul has played the iconic role regularly over the last 20 years and slips effortlessly back into place. The opening scene announces the overall mood of impending disaster with the fates of the brothers revealed before time flashes back to track the brothers lives.
Making a Faustian Pact with her opposite, upper class Mrs Lyons (played by Hollyoaks star Sarah Jane Buckley) , Mrs J agrees to give one of her new-born twins away to alleviate her money worries as “the welfare” have been on to her. As we track the boys through their lives of opposite social classes and upbringings, Blood Brothers emphasises this and many other contrasts: the loving Mrs Johnston and the increasingly unhinged Mrs Lyons, school systems, poverty and weath, images on the cinema screen and reality.
The two brothers played by Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson, portray their characters from age 7 into adulthood, and despite the surreal scenes of adults portraying children, pull it off admirably. The kids games of cowboys and Indians are another contrast on show, with the brutal ending revealing that you can’t really get up again if you cross your fingers.
The progression from Sean Jone’s playful Mickey to shy teenager and eventual living death dosed up on anti depressants was staggering. Also of note is the slickly dressed Narrator (Dean Chisnall) who observes and comments on the unfolding events, musing on the growing sense of approaching doom, sometimes interacting with the characters but powerless to prevent their fall.
Although Blood Brothers is largely a world of tragedy and destroyed hopes, there are many moments of comedy primarily from the fun of adults playing children, but also many other witty parts of the script including an overly excited judge and a dose of traditional Liverpool humour. The funniest part of the night was when a Scouse accented member of audience member shouted out “go on lad!” during a kissing scene.
The musical succeeds in pulling you into its world of darkness right up to the tear jerking finale of “Tell me its not true”. The other songs including “Take a letter miss Jones” performed by a chorus of men in a dole queue, and the unspoken love theme of “Not saying a word” will stay in your head for days. We left the theatre on a high despite the tragedy that had unfolded in front of us. ..Its only a dream and morning will come soon.