A staple of school set texts no doubt, Blood Brothers is testimony to this fact with what felt like hordes of schoolchildren descending upon The Lowry for this most primeval of shows. The tightly-structured plot and allusions to Greek tragedy make it a perfect piece for teenagers to study – and to empathise with. At various points in the drama, audible cries and laughter rose from the schoolchildren in recognition and delight. It’s hard to imagine the same audience reaction with Evita or Cats.
The show opens against a sombre backdrop of Liverpool’s two iconic Liver Birds and we are taken into a world of rapidly vanishing cobbled streets and monkey steps where everyone knows everyone else’s business and is usually involved in it. At curtain two, stretchers are laid out on the stage and in walk the brothers, who lay themselves down on the stretchers to be carried away by nameless men as if they were being ferried across the Styx. A chronicle of two deaths foretold.
All the way through the show we are guided through the plot by the narrator (Richard Munday) – another nod to classical drama – whose portentous declamations mirror the unravelling of two families’ lives. With such a dark theme you would expect the introduction of musical numbers to jar, but not so. In this production by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenright each song is perfectly judged and delivered with real emotion. Niki Colwell Evans as Mrs Johnstone (spoiler alert: who makes the heatrbeaking decision to give up one of her children at birth) steals the show as the brassy Scouse mother. Her piercing voice carries the audience away as she struggles to feed her family and keep her twins – now living separate lives – apart.
We witness how poverty forces people into disastrous choices which go against human nature and it is not hard to see how in the current climate the show is more apt than it intends to be.
Sean Jones as Mickey and Jay Worley as Eddie were certainly hits with the school pupils on the night this reviewer attended. Their adult impersonation of the seven-year-old twins bring moments of high comedy, with Willy Russell’s cracking wit expertly handled by the pair. In fact, the ensemble casting of the neighbourhood kids playing the bombed-out streets of Liverpool is something to behold – cowboys and Indians replacing the enemies of recent World War Two battles.
The show moves with inevitable dread to its foregone conclusion as we see Mrs Johnstone and her children moved out from their decrepit terraced house to a new life on a council estate in Skelmersdale, unwittingly nearer to Mickey’s ‘lost’ twin.
What Russell shows is the cruel hand of fate at its most tireless. Mickey and Eddie are metaphorical blood brothers but by the time they realise they are genetic blood brothers it is too late for the wheels of tragedy to be stopped.
The show at The Lowry is consummately staged and this is a cast which revels in delivering a fast-paced, exhilarating – and funny – performance which will grip any audience, and not just schoolchildren.
Blood Brothers is at The Lowry, Salford from 18 to 22 October 2022 before continuing on tour.