I can finally write my review of Blood Brothers after stemming the tears that fell and fell at the heartbreaking finale. Willy Russell’s musical story of the tragic Johnstone Twins arrived in Wolverhampton at the Grand Theatre last night, and managed to wring tears of laughter and sadness from the sell out audience. Blood Brothers is a musical that we know ends in tragedy, we see this in the opening scene, but how we get to the tragic final scene and the song ‘Tell me it’s not true’ is one of the greatest stories in modern theatre, and one which still resonates, shocks and devastates today.
Mrs Johnstone is the single mother Matriach of the notorious Johnstone family. Growing up on a slum estate on the Mersey, she’s been abandoned by her wastrel husband for a women who looks a bit like ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (the song, and the allusions to the tragic movie queen, is a running motif throughout the musical.) When she finds that the baby she is expecting is actually twins, she is persuaded by her employee Mrs Lyons to give away one of her baby boys. Yet despite the best and increasingly desperate efforts of both women to keep the boys apart, Mickey and Eddie form a deep,lifelong friendship that is, in turn, loving and rewarding, and then ultimately destroys then both.
The whole cast is just faultless. As the narrator, Marti Pellow is an eerie presence who brings a sense of dark foreboding to the piece. He almost underplays the role, which makes the moments when he raises his voice even more unsettling. His singing voice, which sounds so different from his Wet Wet Wet days, is perfect for the role. Another singing star, Maureen Nolan, is just stunning as Mrs Johnstone, instilling every line with a mixture of love, loss and regret for a life never truly lived. Her performance of ‘Tell me it’s not true’ was absolutely heartbreaking, wracked with emotion and grief – totally unforgettable.
As Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Joel Benedict are absolutely perfect, their physical contrast belied by their obvious similarity in personality. Both actors easily convey the passage of time with ease, playing the boys from the age of 7 (almost 8 – another highlight) until the finale, and managing to make the characters believable, and to draw pathos and sympathy from the audience at every level. They are ably supported in this by Danielle Corlass as Linda,funny, adorable and believable as the girl who ultimately comes between the men, and Daniel Taylor as the thuggish Sammy, the boy with the plate in his head who becomes a villain who puts Mickey on his downward path.
With a storyline that condemns Thatcher’s Britain, and now seems to powerfully resonate in the country of Cameron, Blood Brothers still has the power to shock and horrify 30 years after Willy Russell first penned it. No wonder audiences return to see ‘The Standing Ovation Musical’ again and again.
Blood Brothers is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tue 27 Oct – Sat 31 Oct. Click here for ticket information.