Blood Brothers, one of the most successful and beloved musicals in London’s West End, finally shut its doors at the Phoenix Theatre on 10 November 2012 after 24 years in the West End.
Written by Willy Russell, the story is a gripping, emotional and sometimes comical tale of twin brothers from Liverpool who are separated at birth due to the financial desperation of their single mother. Brought up in completely different social backgrounds, their birth mother’s obsessive attempts at keeping her sons from discovering each other lead to a tragic conclusion.
Vivienne Carlyle played the lead role of Mrs. Johnstone, Mark Rice Oxley and Paul Christopher played twin brothers Mickey and Eddie, respectively whilst other cast members included Abigail Jaye as Mrs. Lyons and Philip Stewart as the popular and humorous narrator.
“An odd premise for a musical play you might think but in attempting to answer the age-old question, is it birth or upbringing that makes us what we are, the audience is subjected to a gamut of emotions that, at times, are as hilarious as they are heart-rending.”
Lizzie Guilfoyle at indieLONDON
“Blood Brothers’ ability to combine comedy and tragedy, great songs with a searching examination of both the nature-vs.-nurture debate and the malign role of class in British society strikes me as remarkable. It leaves no doubt that the show belongs among the greats of British musical theatre, right up there with Billy Elliot, Oliver! and Phantom of the Opera.”
Charles Spencer at the Daily Telegraph
“Russell’s musical – remarkably, he wrote the book, music and lyrics – has lost none of its dry-as-a-bone scouse wit, nor its terrible power to move as it reaches its quarter century”
Alice Jones at The Independent
Blood Brothers Review
The bond between twin brothers, brought up as neighbours, world’s apart from each other, is emotional, gripping and touching.
Review by Alice Bzowska, 13/01/2011 at the Phoenix Theatre
“Have you ever heard the story of the Johnstone brothers?” This is the opening line to the musical which unwraps with intrigue and mystery, and kept me captivated throughout the 3 hours that the show runs for. If you haven’t heard the story yourself, then now is the time to do so, as there is something for everyone in this classic British tale of brothers separated at birth, destined to find each other’s true identities as adults.
The Johnstone brothers are Eddie – given away to a rich woman who cannot have children, and Mickey – kept by his birth mother who cannot afford to raise both, in impoverished 1960s Liverpool. Brought up in different worlds but living side-by-side, the brothers’ lives intertwine as they grow up and become friends and ultimately meet knowing that they are brothers, with tragic consequences. It is a tale tinged with humour as well as emotion, and each character was convincing in their roles, particularly brothers Eddie and Mickey.
The character of Mickey is played by actor Stephen Palfreman, who has performed the role for many years throughout the world as well as London and has starred alongside David Cassidy in the Canadian production of the musical. From acting as a hilarious seven-year-old child at the beginning of the show to an adult just out of prison, addicted to painkillers towards the end, Palfreman was to me, the star of the show. Simon Willmont who plays Eddie, given away by his penniless mother to her rich boss, who is brought up worlds away from his twin brother Mickey in a life full of privilege. Simon has previously played the role of Eddie on the UK tour of the show, and also stood out to me in his acting of a posh schoolboy who just wants to be a friend.
The leading role of Mrs Johnstone, the twins’ birth mother, was played by Maureen Nolan of Nolan Sisters fame. The emotions she goes through during her sons lifetimes were conveyed with authenticity and her vocals during the emotional ‘Tell Me It Isn’t True’ and ‘Easy Terms’ were strong, raw and empowering. Other main characters included Vivienne Carlyle as the woman who brings up Eddie. Her vocals were also strong and her desperation for having a child was visible. The sinister narrator, always lurking at the corner of every scene and acting like a bad conscience to Mrs Lyons, was played by Philip Stewart and emitted a sense of menace with his performance. The woman at the heart of the brothers’ affections, Linda, was performed by Louise Clayton who fashioned the perfect mix of girlish innocence and womanly confidence.
Much praise has been said about Blood Brothers since it was first shown to audiences in Liverpool in 1983, but the show is not without its faults. The musical score was written by the playwright himself, Willy Russell, and although it does feature some great songs, there are a couple that are not very memorable and there is also one that is probably sung too many times, ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Although very catchy, the song has two reprises and is annoyingly impossible to get out of your head, long after the curtain has closed. Some of the music also sounded slightly dated and mechanical, possibly due to the era it was written in (the 80s!). However, the vocals of the cast ensured that these issues weren’t too much of a problem.
The highlight of Blood Brothers is the story itself – emotional, gripping, comical and heart-touching, and the performance I saw last week at the Phoenix Theatre on London’s Charing Cross Road exceeded all expectations I had of the show. Now into its 22nd year, the musical will surely stay for a long time to captivate and move audiences for years to come. In conclusion, I would recommend popping along to see the show if you haven’t already as it is impressive and inspiring….like Marilyn Monroe!
Highlights from the show: