Blood Brothers At New Wimbledon Theatre
Thank goodness ‘the show is back on the road’. In this case Blood Brothers and after the closures and detours that have impacted the theatre industry it’s got to be great news for everyone who relies on and enjoys watching the industry of theatre.
The Blood Brothers HGV truck parked up outside the theatre is clocking up the miles. Darlington last week, Wimbledon this week, and Manchester next week.
It’s not just the shows that are back, the audiences are too – judged on what looked a capacity audience at Wimbledon for their opening night of a week-long run. Helped in no part by a mile long queue of students, I exaggerate, but not by much. Blood Brothers is included in many school syllabuses and as homework goes, it’s not a bad way of spending an evening.
Coincidentally Blood Brothers was one of the last shows I saw pre-pandemic – at the ATG sister venue Richmond Theatre. With theatres dark for the best part of two years, I wondered how it would look in the ‘new’ world. Global pandemics don’t turn good shows into bad ones but as times change so do people’s appetites, preferences and priorities.
Any fears it would look dated and not relevant in 2022 were allayed right from the start. By the end of the evening I came away thinking that Willy Russell’s classic was as valid today as it was when it first opened at Liverpool Playhouse in 1983.
Set in Liverpool, the central themes of class, growing up, love, loyalties and ultimately violence and tragedy are played out by the fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie, their mother Mrs Johnstone, the Lyons family and commented on by an omnipresent narrator. It’s dark, light and pretty much every shade in between.
Often serious points are made in ingenious ways. You’d be pretty cold-hearted not to ‘awwww’ at the teddy bear being taken away from the pram by the debt collectors and the social divide was perfectly illustrated by the policeman’s polar opposite approach to the Johnstone and Lyons families. Even ‘the price of oil’ line in Take A Letter Miss Jones has modern relevance given the recent fuel price hikes!
I’m not sure it’s changed too much over the years either. And that’s intended as a compliment – I think it’s been nurtured and preserved like a classic car – a few tweaks here and there to the lib, orchestrations, lighting and sound. All those tweaks add up to the Blood Brothers 2022 vintage and what a mesmerising and captivating night out it is.
Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone looked great in the part in the latest publicity videos and shone on stage. Reading her biog, I fully expected to read that she hailed from Skelmersdale Lane itself given the authenticity she brought to the role. It was a lovely mix of Liverpool spirit, humour and values combined with a fantastic singing voice to make for an infectious performance. Tell Me It’s Not True was amazing and tear-jerking as always.
Mickey and Eddie were in safe hands courtesy of Sean Jones and Joel Benedict respectively. They got every ounce out of their parts – for much of the show it’s a double act and they contrasted and played off each other perfectly. The experienced Sean excelled in the ‘post-prison’ transition in his character.
The brothers scenes with Linda played by the excellent Carly Burns were a highlight. Carly played the part with the perfect levels of feistiness and vulnerability. Paula Tappenden and Tim Churchill both gave really strong performances as ‘parents’ of Eddie. The journey Mrs Lyons goes on is a central theme and Paula delivered an absorbing performance getting her ultimate fragility just right.
Robbie Scotcher made for a superb narrator. Crystal clear delivery of lines and songs, menacing in parts but at no point allowing his character to distract from the ancillary action. Danny Taylor was equally as impressive as elder brother Sammy exploring every avenue of humour, general repulsiveness and ultimately serious crime from his role. The ensemble work hard in a multitude of roles in Blood Brothers and top marks go to Nick Wilkes (Policeman / Teacher) who made superb transitions between his roles, Grace Galloway (Donna Marie / Miss Jones) who gave a very strong supporting role, Jacob Yolland (Postman / Bus Conductor), Andy Perkins perfectly irritating as Perkins, Josh Capper (Neighbour) and Melissa Potts (Brenda).
Producer Bill Kenwright has the show in great shape, I noticed ‘Everton’ was on the backdrop as graffiti as a nod to his team. Concurrent to the performance, Everton were playing Newcastle and lost 3-1. I suspect Mr Kenwright might have been quietly singing Tell Me It’s Not True – but for very different reasons than his ever-excellent Blood Brothers!
Review by David Stewart
Blood Brothers is playing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 12th February 2022. For more information check out their website.