Culture Writers Hannah Dalgliesh and Rani Jadfa review Blood Brothers, praising the cast performances in this famous Liverpudlian tragedy


Blood Brothers returns to the Birmingham Hippodrome, playing until Saturday 4th May. Hannah Dalgliesh and Rani Jadfa provide a double perspective review of the show.

Perspective One: Hannah Dalgliesh 

Against the backdrop of Liverpool’s Liver building, twin boys are separated at birth, when their desperate mother, already feeding seven mouths, can no longer support her children and gives one son to her rich employer. Willy Russell’s long-running cult classic Blood Brothers is Shakespearean in its ambition: it has all the twin confusion of The Comedy of Errors but is filled with the dread of Romeo and Juliet, because the narrator tells the audience in the opening scene that this will all end in tragedy. At its heart it is a story of class: one brother, Mickey (Sean Jones), growing up in urban Everton and able to shoot a slingshot with extreme precision; the other, Eddie (Joe Sleight), reading the dictionary in his spare time and speaking Queen’s English.

Colwell-Evans gives a truly stunning performance, full of soul and heart-shattering love

The superstition that separated twins are destined to die on the same day if they find out haunts the play. The narrator acts as the moral compass of the show, lurking in windows and street corners, a constant reminder that however content the families are, oncoming tragedy is never far away.

By far the centre of this show is Mrs Johnstone (Niki Colwell-Evans), the mother of these twins. She is the hard-working, incredibly strong, beating heart of the family, desperately loving her children and missing the one she gave away. Colwell-Evans gives a truly stunning performance, full of soul and heart-shattering love. With phenomenal vocals and a talent for extreme tenderness, her portrayal of a working-class mother struggling through decades of poverty, re-housing, and hopelessness is a triumph to view. Standout songs include the classic ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and her deeply emotive ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ – safe to say if you aren’t crying in the first act, you certainly will be by the end of her songs.

A defining show – and one which will stay with me for a long time

What a performance Jones gives as Mickey: there is no doubt, as he toddles behind his mother, that he is in fact the foul-mouthed seven-year-old with a slingshot who fatefully meets his twin and teaches him to swear. As he moves through his teenage years, he is sweetly embarrassed to be around his childhood best friend Linda (Gemma Brodrick), and can’t bear to ask her out. Merseyside swings in and out of view: skyline-defining buildings against the backdrop of the show, New Brighton beach on birthdays, and the powerful moment the broken men of Liverpool line up on the dole during the recession. Jones’ Mickey ages with astonishing dexterity, his physicality changing into the beaten man of the northern poverty which defined so many generations of men.

Is this a tale of superstition, or is it really about class? This is the question posed by the narrator, and without a doubt answered as the play reaches its horrifying crescendo. A defining show – and one which will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5/5

Perspective Two: Rani Jadfa

Willy Russell’s, Blood Brothers, was one of the longest-running musicals on the West End for 24 years and has now returned for a new UK tour with just as much heart, drama, and tears (actors and audience included).

As a Blood Brothers first-timer, I was able to go into the musical completely blind, although the show is shaped to reveal the ending in the opening number. This hauntingly casts a shadow over each moment of humour and the connections between the characters become heavier with melancholy and anticipation, especially between Mrs Johnstone and her sons, Mickey and Eddie.

The core of Russell’s play undeniably resides in the chemistry between Mickey and Eddie

Half of the brilliant cast is made up of Mrs Johnstone’s children who transitioned from youngsters to teenagers and then to fully-fledged adults. This includes the characters of Eddie, Sammy (Timothy Lucas) and Linda, all of whom were scarily believable as both kids and grown-ups. The core of Russell’s play undeniably resides in the chemistry between Mickey and Eddie. Jones and Sleight’s combination is electric, especially their acute personalities as young children; if they were slightly shorter, I would have believed they were both seven years old (sorry Mickey… ‘nearly eight’).

For me, Jones’ performance as Mickey is a highlight: his shift from a mischievous and naïve child to a horny teenager is commendable in itself. However, watching the stark difference in character between the impishness in the first act and the drama of the final section of the play where Jones conveys a devastatingly raw adult, struggling with addiction, money, and marriage, gives a huge credit to his acting abilities.

The cast and crew of Blood Brothers have outdone themselves

The set is masterful with stacks of houses on either side and backdrops for living rooms, fairgrounds and courtrooms that rise and fall. This creates a brilliant setting for the 1960s time period of the play. Furthermore, the show is full of an array of brilliant musical numbers: my personal favourite is the Act One finale, ‘Bright New Day,’ which really allows Colwell-Evans’s vocals to shine.

The cast and crew of Blood Brothers have outdone themselves, creating a performance full of laughs, tears, and moments that will shock you to your core – I could see this new run of Blood Brothers staying on for another 24 years.

Rating: 4/5

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