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 prophesy, the play ends as it begins. The harsh realities of life are highlighted through twins Eddie and Mickey, who are separated 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.
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. Blood Brothers is burdened by fate, opening with the death of its two brothers and offering audiences a narrative that follows both superstition and systematic discrimination.
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 member of the pop group New Seekers, Lyn Paul 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 (Dean Chisnall) who keeps the direction of the musical seamless and smooth, there is no static in Bob Tomson’s direction of the already expected narrative. 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 Sean Jones (Mickey) 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 lack of equal opportunity. The self-fulfilling prophesy that often allows the perceived poor to fall into the trap of believing they cannot progress is challenged when Eddie becomes a councillor and Mickey falls into unemployment. 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.