Northern Ireland news

Review: Blood Brothers packs an emotional punch

Willy Russell's Blood Brothers mixes exuberance and emotional depth to powerful effect. Picture by Robert Day.
Anne Hailes




THE opening scene and the closing scene are the same and in between we are treated to the story of two families, two mothers and two sons.

Mrs Johnstone (Niki Colwell Evans) is a working class woman with a husband who leaves her for a younger model who looks like Marilyn Monroe, walking out on his seven children and twins on the way.

This is a terrible shock as she is only just making ends meet - one more mouth to feed she says she can manage but not two. She confides this worry to the woman who employs her as a cleaner.

Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden) is wealthy, has a big house, a successful husband but money can't buy her happiness - the child she longs for.

But wait - money can buy her a baby, although as we find out, not happiness. The women swear on the Bible, one to give up a baby, the other to promise to raise it as her own.

The boys are born, the women meet and Mrs Lyons picks up one from the pram and heads home.

Despite the promise that Mrs J will be there every day and be able to watch her son grow up it doesn't work out, she becomes too possessive and is paid off - £50 to leave her employment never to return. Shades of wealth dominating poverty, even today.

The play is set in Liverpool with Everton scrawled on the back wall and the Liver Building towering above.

Mickey (Sean Jones) is just seven going on eight when we meet him, a boisterous boy playing cowboys and Indians with his mates and hero worshiping his older brother Sammy (Timothy Lucas), a rough diamond and far from a good example. The family are living on the ‘never never', debts mount up and it's rough.

Up on the hill in the big houses the other family is thriving; young Edward (Jay Worley) lacks for nothing, goes to a good school, has good manners but something is missing in his young life.

When he wanders down towards the housing estate he bumps into Mickey and they strike up a friendship - they were born on the same day and they bond.

Mickey takes out a knife, and pricks his thumb and then Eddie's, and, thumb to thumb, they become blood brothers.

Eddie's education is extended with his brother's street vocabulary and when he announces ‘shag the vicar' in his plummy voice the audience erupts with laughter - although there is worse than that... The audience likes Eddie but they love Mickey.

There is always a brooding atmosphere on stage which filters into the audience, the narrator (Richard Munday) brings the story along talking about gloom and doom, the bogeyman, and how it will all end in tears.

Act two begins bright and breezy, the gabble of children playing is replaced by 18-year-olds, and splits begin to appear between the blood brothers.

Mickey marries his girlfriend Linda (Carly Burns) but loses his job, is down and out, becomes a depressive; the Narrator reminds us that he warned of "a price to pay".

And that price is brutal and unexpected. It brings tears and a standing ovation. As in birth, in death the two boys die at the same time on the same day, beside each other.

This is a famous play from the pen of Willy Russell and the cast, especially in the second act, cast a spell and the set changes from one scene to another swiftly and efficiently.

The music is always there, the songs plaintive - especially Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It's Not True, sung powerfully by Niki Colwell Evans.

Try and catch this musical, you won't be disappointed.

Anne Hailes

Northern Ireland news