Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” famously opens with one long, droning tone from the orchestra which engages, entrances and thrills in equal measure. “Blood Brothers” employs the same technique and hits exactly the same, as it were, note. We are drawn into a dark and tragic world where the outcome of the plot is set out as clearly as the two dead two bodies laying before us. This is the plot spoiler of all plot spoilers but, oddly, though we know the end we want to know why it happened. Not a whodunnit, but a whydunnit? And so, the drone draws us in…
My first Mrs. Johnston was Kiki Dee, which for all you BB buddies out there, means I saw it quite early on in its humungous run. Barbara Dickson did it first, of course, in a version that didn’t take off. Bill Kenwright sprinkled his Liverpudlian magic across it, threw in a few reprises and it became one of the most successful musicals ever. Various female stars of the sixties and seventies have taken on the role including a slew of Nolan’s, but Lyn Paul seems most at home in the role having played it innumerable times. Her voice is beautiful and still so clear. She is a delight to listen to.
But it’s the kids that earn our affectation and their humour is built resolutely and strategically, deftly doubling the emotion impact to which their situation inexorably leads them. Alexander Patmore as Mickey, the rude rough ruffian and Andy McIntosh as his secretly adopted middle-class mummy’s boy pitch their performance just on the right side of kidhood parody and surround themselves with an ensemble of double and trebling actors from whom Kenwright more than gets his money’s worth. Paula Tappenden as Mrs. Lyons was compelling, and Robbie Scotcher as the Narrator held together the piece with passion.
The play moves swiftly and inevitably to its tragic conclusion of Greek proportions. It’s inevitable, it has to happen and yet we sit open mouthed not believing this fate could befall characters we’ve grown to love. Everyone is so committed to the performance, and it gains a standing ovation that is as inevitable as the outcome of the plot.
As far as I can see Willy Russell has never written a musical since and why should he? It is a perfectly balanced and structured piece of writing which it would be almost impossible to equal let alone better. The classic tragic architecture of the plot make it utterly compelling and, apart from occasional wisps of melodrama and unanswered questions (How did Mrs. Lyons get into Mrs. Johnston’s kitchen with that knife?) it proves itself, yet again, a substantial landmark in British theatre.
Blood Brothers continues at Birmingham Hippodrome until the 13th November https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/blood-brothers-3/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 2nd November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★