Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers seems to have been around forever. It’s a powerful drama about what happens when twins are separated at birth and live their separate lives. It’s a more serious subject than many musicals but nevertheless it’s not a play with songs but a full musical. Having said that, it’s almost a genre in its own right, with its origins at the Liverpool Everyman theatre a key part of its theatrical DNA.
It started life touring schools. This showed author Willy Russell that if the piece could entertain a room full of teenagers who were only there because they had to be, then it had the necessary legs to be a success as a full-blown musical. It ran in the West End for 24 years.
Actors have to go from being young (age seven) to adulthood. All the performances were totally realistic and convincing. The star name, though, was Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone. For a generation or more she was the person who taught the world to sing as part of the New Seekers. She was simply stunning as the twins’ mother. She really made you sympathise with her problem of having so many mouths to feed.
Getting a job as a cleaner makes her feel empowered to look after her family. But then she finds out she is adding not just one but two mouths to feed, being pregnant with twins. Her only solution is giving one twin away to a married couple who were desperate to have children. A heart-breaking decision with ultimately tragic consequences.
It’s also a social history of life in northern Britain. It’s not been updated, but its themes are timeless. It’s not got any obvious theatrical spectacle but it retains its power 32 year on from its first performance in Liverpool. You are effortlessly drawn into the emotions of the characters.
The songs really help you feel empathy with the characters and move the story on. Beautifully sung by Lyn Paul. This role was her debut musical theatre performance back in 1997 and has been voted the definitive interpretation of Mrs Johnstone. She has played the role several times over the years since and this tour marks the last chance to see her in the part.
The audience, with a significant contingent of teenagers from a local school, were completely captivated. A spontaneous standing ovation was testament to the quality of the writing, production and the performances.
Blood Brothers is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 23 November 2019.