Saturday, June 10

Blood Brothers – Sheffield Lyceum

The ‘Liverpudlian folk opera’ known as Blood Brothers has been a theatrical success since its inception by Willy Russell, winning the 1983 Laurence Olivier Award as Best New Musical. Its 1987 revival saw 10,000 consecutive performances in its 24-year run in the West End. With a two year run on Broadway and UK and International touring productions, Blood Brothers has earned its place as a firm favourite of our time with its strong book, it has a tale to tell and is a musical that is loved by people who hate musicals! 

Blood Brothers is a very simple story but everything about it screams EPIC. The present touring production is directed by long associates of the musical – Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright, designed by Adam Walmsley with lighting and sound design by Nick Richings and Dan Samson. The set is simplistic with houses adorning both sides of the stage and occasional scenery is flown in to give the interiors of the houses/school/bus etc. The sound plays a big part of the production with an exaggerate use of delay to create an atmospheric ambience. The lighting is dynamic and bold and adds to the strong sense of foreboding tension.

Blood Brother is the story of twin brothers Mickey and Eddie, separated at birth. It is set in Liverpool in the 1960’s, it addresses social class and the burning question – nature or nurture? With its anecdotal humour juxtaposing the painful plot for two and a half hours the audience are transfixed, shocked, feel joy and sorrow and eventually a deep sense of morality and humanity.

The narrator who guides us through the story is played by Richard Munday with suitable menace alongside his emotive insight. His reworked rendition of ‘Shoes Up on the Table’ highlight the opportunity that knowledge, education and finance gift the privileged and hinder the less fortunate. There has been much discussion as to what the Narrator actually represents in the story … Fate? The devil?

Photo: Jack Merriman

The mother of the twins, Mrs Johnstone is superbly played by Nikki Colwell Evans (the ‘Songbird’ of 2007 X Factor). Colwell Evans has a voice that is pure velvet – beautiful and emotive. This has to be the strongest Mrs Johnstone I have seen, and I have seen this show 30+ times! Her renditions of Easy Terms and My Child (duet with Mrs Lyons) are glorious. Paula Tappenden returns to her long associated role as Mrs Lyons, her decline into madness is heart-breaking even though the character is hard to sympathise with as we are so invested in Mrs Johnstone’s predicament. I must mention the very charismatic Tim Churchill as Mr Lyons and other roles, this man drew my eye every time he entered the stage, again a difficult task with much emotive development written for the Johnstones.

Sean Jones once again graces the stage with his portrayal of Mickey Johnstone, with a long and successful association with the show both on tour and in the West End, Jones seemed fresh and new in this production. His childlike antics and then electric performance of Mickey’s demise into medication addiction is a masterclass of effective acting. Alongside Jones is Joe Sleight as the twin brother, Edward Lyons (Eddie) who is given away to wealthy parents. Sleight has some beautiful duets with Jones and their voices sound great together – Long Sunday Afternoon and That Guy. His depiction of Eddie is heartfelt and he holds his own with the performance of Jones.

There was great chemistry on stage between Jones and Olivia Sloyan as Linda. I really enjoyed Sloyan’s depiction and the character of Linda had a depth that past Linda’s have failed to find in performance. Great casting and in my opinion, probably the best Linda I have seen. Timothy Lucas was a strong Sammy but he did look a little young to be Jones’ older brother – but this is hardly surprising with the length of time Jones has played the Mickey role!

The multiple role playing ensemble were effective in all roles, and I must mention Nick Wilkes as the teacher(s) who found a new, less comedic depth to the cameos. Connor Bannister played all his roles with great gusto and was notable.

The final scene – (if you know you know) –always makes you jump, no matter how much you prepare to be ready for it, and again I jumped out of my seat! This is a true testament to the power of Blood Brothers writing, of its last scene and of the ability of Jones to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Then there is the most well-known song ‘Tell me it’s not true’ and there isn’t a dry eye in the house or on the stage – such is the power of this show.

Blood Brothers is at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 29th April 2023. I cannot stress enough if you have not seen this musical, you really, really must. It has universal appeal to all, and this particular production and cast are simply stunning, coming out at the very top of my 30+ times of watching it. Praise indeed.

This show is heart wrenching, heart-warming and heart breaking, it is bright, brooding and brilliant and it is an epically essential experience. Wonderful.

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 25th April 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★