Blood Brothers Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
From the playwright that brought you Educating Rita, comes a dramady musical that plays with class expectations, friendship and love. Splitting a self-imposed and societal self-fulfilling prophecy, Blood Brothers ends as it begins, opening the show with a dramatic murder.
Blood Brothers is burdened by fate, offering audiences a narrative that follows both superstition and systematic discrimination. As the musical plays back the story of twins Eddie (Joel Benedic) and Micky (Josh Capper) the play highlights the harsh realities of working-class life with the brothers seen divided at birth and raised in separate social circles. Eddie is brought up as an only child of a wealthy family, while Mickey’s childhood is swiftly formed through a hard-hitting environment with a single, working-class mother raising eight children. Despite growing up apart, the twins naturally gravitate towards each other, forming a bond that cannot be broken.
The Palace Theatre hosts both households, where directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright bring a drab, sombre backdrop to counter the musical’s childlike optimism and joyous lyrics. Educating Rita plays with the concept of working-class mobility through education, opportunity and self-resilience. Here writer Willy Russell seals the fate of his lead characters by highlighting the continued shortcomings of the class divide and the institutions designed to provide freedom and opportunity to all who seek it.
It is a story filtered through large personalities that allow its class division to place blame on the rich and poor alike through the use of warm and believable performances. Former X-factor contestant, Niki Evans uses her powerful portrayal and fantastic vocals to carry a mobility message that is difficult to shake. Her Marylin Monroe montage relates the dreams of a working mother, Mrs Johnstone treading water financially with little support from her community who see her as a sponge on the system. Backed up by the live narrator, Robbie Scotcher who keeps the direction of the musical seamless and smooth, while ensuring that there is no static ahead of the anticipated ending. Even during solo performances, the shadowy narrator figure lurks in the alley or on the first floor of the estate setting, looking down from the tower blocks and judging the events. His presence is a constant reminder of how archaic ideals, rites of passage and fate play a role in this modern fable.
Despite the disconcerting opening, the shows gritty realism allows Benedic to show working-class charm to its full advantage. Carrying much of the humour throughout this dark comedy, it is successful in moving the happy go lucky Mickey to a place of despair through a lack of opportunity. Ending with a standing ovation, the intense finale that is foreshadowed throughout the production, still came as a shock having followed the twin’s personal growth through the 2-hour 45-minute production.
Blood Brothers shepherds its audience through the trappings of poverty with moving performances, poignant direction and fantastic lyrics. With a story that continues to resonate, Blood Brothers is as relevant now as it was when it was first released in 1985.
Tickets are available via the ATG link