Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
WILLY Russell's Blood Brothers has been delighting
audiences world-wide since 1983 - and it's easy to see why.
So, did YOU 'hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each
other as two new pins, of one womb born, on the self same day,
how one was kept and one given away?'
An odd premise for a musical play' you might think' but in attempting
to answer the age-old question, is it birth or upbringing that
makes us what we are, the audience is subjected to a gamut of
emotions that, at times, are as hilarious as they are heart-rending.
And while the tragic conclusion is never in doubt - the opening
sequence makes that clear - the whole is a highly entertaining
and dramatic piece of musical theatre.
Mickey is the twin raised by his mother, Mrs Johnstone; Edward,
or Eddie, as we come to know him, by Mrs Lyons - two women from
very different backgrounds; one rich, the other poor.
But against all the odds, Mickey and Eddie meet, become friends
and, as the title suggests, blood brothers - a scene, incidentally,
that is quite comical. Trouble, though, is about to rear its ugly
Consequently, Blood Brothers is a play of vastly contrasting
halves - the second, darker and increasingly forbidding, as events
spiral towards that inevitable conclusion, however much we might
But what makes it so successful is
the continuity of the characters - of Mickey and Eddie, in particular,
who are played by the same actors throughout.
The idea of grown men as young boys, in short trousers and long
socks, might seem strange, but with Russell's excellent and perceptive
script that perfectly captures the essence of youth, it works
very well, never once descending into farce.
A script, by the way, that is delivered in a delightful Liverpudlian
accent. And it's during this childhood period that some of the
funniest moments occur.
Of course, pivotal to the plot, is Mrs Johnstone, 'a mother so
cruel there's a stone in place of her heart', and the audience
is asked to judge her - to decide if she is, indeed, as cruel
as her actions might suggest, or merely the victim of her own
naievity and wretched personal circumstances. What, I wonder,
will you decide?
And the music is a bonus. Light and easy on the ear, it enhances
the mood to such a degree that it's impossible not to share Mrs
Johnstone's joy and dejection in Marilyn Monroe and,
later, her utter despair in Tell Me It's Not True; not
to empathise with Mickey and Eddie, each longing to be like the
other, in My Friend and not be genuinely touched by Eddie's
veiled declaration of love, in'I'm Not Saying a Word
- music that will just as easily set toes tapping, as bring a
tear to the eye.
Over the years, many actors/actresses have taken on the principal
roles - some famous, others not - but with so much talent on the
West End stage, none have disappointed.
Blood Brothers makes for a great night out, although
it does beg one final question - why are tragedies such as this,
so enduringly popular? Answers on a postcard...
Blood Brothers, Phoenix Theatre,
Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JP.
Box Office: 0870 060 6629