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Russell's tragedy remains an enduring classic



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 head.

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 wish otherwise.

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

Buy tickets now!

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