Blood Brothers, Bristol Hippodrome

FOR a play that was written to be presented as a school production and met with only moderate success when, (with a full music score added) it was first produced professionally, Blood Brothers was a very unlikely candidate for an Olivier Award for best new musical, become one of the West End’s longest running musicals, and, more than forty years after that 1981 production in Fazakerley Comprehensive School, still be successfully touring the country.

Having now built up its own cult following, with young theatre-goers constantly adding to the hard core of older regular supporters, the show seems destined to be around for many years to come.

One of the secrets of its continuing success is the fact that producer Bill Kenwright, who co-directs with Bob Tomson, is forever refreshing the production with new cast members. If you look down the list of those who have played the hard working, always living-around-the-poverty-line, loving mother, Mrs Johnstone, you will find among others Barbara Dickson, Stephanie Lawrence, Petula Clarke, Carole King, Marti Webb and all four Nolan sisters. Here in Bristol, Niki Colwell Evans, who first found fame in the X Factor, joins that illustrious list tearing at the heart strings as the deserted wife forced by circumstances to sell one of her newly born twins in order to keep her large family together.

As the Narrator, Danny Whitehead continually reminds us, as we follow the fortunes of Mickey brought up in poverty and Eddie in the lap of luxury, it is a decision that can only end in tragedy. Despite all the efforts of neurotic Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) to keep the twins apart, taking advantage of her husbands’ money to move from fine town to country house, their lives and that of their shared love Linda (Gemma Brodrick), from happy-go-lucky juveniles to thwarted young adults, continually intertwine.

The 1950s and early 1960s period and the struggles that faced the less well-off are vividly evoked by Willy Russell, who was born and bred in the Liverpool area and aided by Andy Walmsley’s deceptively easily changing sets. Determined to get a political as well as social message over, Russell does tend to make everything rather black and white, with, (apart from Mrs Lyons mental problems), all the Middle Classes living life on easy street, constantly denying those below them in the social order any opportunity to improve their lot.

The heavy handed way in which the local policeman deals with Mickey, compared to his gentle understanding of Eddie, when as children they indulge in a little mild vandalism underlines these views.

Jo Sleight’s Eddie is always ready to support his Blood Brother Mickey, but on his own terms, accepting his privileges as a right.

Sean Jones produces, as he has for most of the last 22 years, a powerhouse performance as the troubled Mickey. Having reach his half century Sean has declared that his will be his last tour in the role he has inhabited with such distinction for so many years. He has no trouble in showing all the childlike joy of a seven-going-on-eight-year-old, gauche teenager desperate to show his love for Linda and young adult destroyed by anti-depressant drugs. When this production returns, as it surely will, it will take a multi-talented actor to fill the large boots left by Sean Jones’s Mickey.


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