Blood Brothers, Theatre Royal Bath

IF you buy a stick of Blackpool Rock you would find the town’s name running through the heart of the sweet. And in a similar vein, Blood Brothers and the two men most associated with the show, author/composer Willy Russell and director/producer Bill Kenwright, have Liverpool running through their hearts.

Born within a year of each other 1945/6, Willy in a village on the town’s outskirts and Bill within the city, they had first-hand experience of the city and its people during the harsh early 1980s, when work was hard to come by and the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” was startlingly wide.

Triggered by a story of twins separated at birth, with dire consequences later in life, Russell set out to throw a spotlight on these differences in life expectancy and lifestyle in a play he had written for Fazackerley Comprehensive School, before setting out to develop the play into a musical. It is this deep knowledge of the people and place, and unlike so many recent musical adaptations which have a score grafted unconvincingly onto the story, the music here fits the story and characters like a well tailored suit, or haute couture dress. The high drama and earthy humour flow seamlessly back and forth from the spoken word to the vocals.

Even with that background and decent critical acclaim the show stuttered a bit when it first moved from the Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre to London’s West End. Enter Bill Kenwright – and a production that had a 24 year run in London and has been successfully touring for more than 30 years.

This latest tour, with a mixture of old experienced Blood Brothers hands and bright new talent in the cast, will not disappoint its army of faithful fans, and should attract many more to their number. Niki Colwell Evens once again fills with distinction the role of warm-hearted loving Mrs Johnstone, forever haunted by having had to give one of her twin sons away in order to keep her large family together. Her attempts to fulfil her side of the bargain and keep apart from Eddie, the son she has given to Sarah Jane Buckley’s wealthy, neurotic Mrs Lyons, are thwarted by fate that continually throws both families together, leading to a tragic ending, when Eddie and Mickey, the twin left in Mrs Johnstone’s, at last learn that they are not just blood but true brothers.

Eddie played by Joe Sleight, Mickey played by Sean Jones, and Gemma Brodrick as Linda, the girl loved by both brothers, are as convincing as seven-going-on-eight children, and gauche spotty teenagers, as they are as young adults, viciously torn apart circumstances by beyond their control. The build up to the Greek Tragedy of a final scene, where Mickey, thrown on the unemployment heap and destroyed by prescription drugs, confronts the well-meaning Eddie, had the audience sitting on the edges of their seats willing for the happy ending they knew was impossible to attain. As they sat there, they were full of the same horror as the two mothers at the inevitable ending.
Produced by a company whose roots are firmly planted in Liverpool and presented with the hard grittiness of that city. Blood Brothers, despite the world we live in being much changed since the early 1980s, still has a great deal to say about the big gaps in society. And on a personal level, the harsh consequences we all face if we make the wrong decision, for ‘no man is an island’.

If you have never seen this powerful musical, this production will serve as good introduction, If you have, then a return visit to an old friend will not disappoint you.