Blood Brothers

Feb 14 2016 | By More

★★★★☆   Relevant

Edinburgh Playhouse: Mon 8 – Sat 13 Feb 2016.
Review by Thom Dibdin

Every musical needs a great soaring tune to call its own. And Blood Brothers, touring to the Playhouse all week, certainly has that.

Seeing the show again – as many do – it seems that the tune is one which, just like its namesake Marilyn Monroe, lingers on. And exists in many guises.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production).

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production).

This Bill Kenwright production of Willy Russell’s musical has been in town many, many times. And yet it still feels big and relevant as it draws standing ovations and much wiping away of tears at its end.

This time round it is Lyn Paul – the one-time New Seeker – who stars as Mrs Johnstone: the mother who finds out her seventh child is actually to be twins. She is forced by financial circumstances and the fact her husband has just walked out on her, to give one of the twins away to the posh lady, Mrs Lyons, for whom she cleans.

So Mickey grows up penniless, but wily, as Mickey Johnstone while Eddie – Edward – grows up as Eddie Lyons, never wanting for a shilling, and smoothly comfortable in his life.

For years it seemed as if the Nolan sisters had bought the rights to play Mrs Johnstone in the touring production. But Paul is no stranger to it – she first performed it in the West End in 1997 when it allowed her to break out of cabaret career into musical theatre.

worldly vulnerability

And there is no doubting her doughty take on the role. It’s all told in a giant flashback from the tragic day that the two grownup twins Mickey and Eddie find out the truth of their relationship.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production)

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production)

Paul has a worldly vulnerability as the middle aged woman with grown-up children – but is also sprightly enough as the young Mrs Johnstone, embattled by her children and fighting a rearguard action against the bailiffs.

It’s not just circumstance that Paul is fighting against, however. Musically, this is vastly overburdened by the effects added by the mixing desk. There are easily more than would be necessary to ensure that the vocals carry to every one of the 3000 seats of the Edinburgh Playhouse.

Which leaves you wondering whether there is a weak link in there somewhere, being massaged over.

There are times when the drive from the pit has a positively detrimental effect on the performances. Notably when the narrator, superbly performed by Kristofer Harding, is forced to push on the pace when a slight pulling back would be more effective.

That drive, however, is one of the things which makes the production work so well. There is a open sparseness to the storytelling which ensures that the whole moves on at a great rate, never letting up as the twins grow up  and, not knowing their relationship, become first best pals – then blood brothers even.


For that purpose, the ensemble is in great form – particularly in the early scenes depicting the back-street life of the Johnstone kids. The games of cowboys and indians, the mocking of authority and the growing relationship between Mickey, Eddie and Mickey’s sweetheart Linda, are all brilliantly constructed.

There’s little to criticise in the performances here, either. Sean Jones is hugely enjoyable as Mickey, getting into the complexities of the role. Joel Benedict is a smooth, easily likeable Eddie, hopelessly naive in many ways. And Danielle Corlass completes the trio with an knowing take on Linda.

What makes the production work so well is its observation of children growing up – from infants to teenagers to young adults. Which is partly down to the truth of Willie Russell’s writing, but also because of the depth of characters created on the stage.

There is another level to this, too. One which is as relevant today, sadly, as it was when it was first produced in the early 1980s. It’s to do with where the cause of the tragedy lies.

Russell himself has the narrator suggest that class divide or superstition are what caused it. And in some ways they do. The superstitions used by Mrs Lyons to coerce Mrs Johnstone into giving away her baby, the class divide between the two families.

But the failure of society itself is much more culpable in the tragedy. The loss of jobs, the throwing of a whole generation on the scrap heap, the seemingly deliberate destruction of a whole way of life, are what caused the tragedy to happen.

And it is in the recognition of this reality that the real power and relevance of the production lies.

Running time 2 hours 45 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Monday 8 – Saturday 13 February 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: Book here

Blood Brothers on tour Spring 2016:
8 – 13 Feb Edinburgh
Playhouse Theatre
0844 871 3014 Book online
15 – 20 Feb Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
22 – 27 Feb Bromley
Churchill Theatre
08448 717 620 Book online
1 – 5 Mar Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
7 – 12 Mar Buxton
Opera House
0845 127 2190 Book online
14 – 19 Mar Crewe
Lyceum Theatre
01270 368 242 Book online
22 – 26 Mar Torquay
Princess Theatre
0844 871 3023 Book online
28 Mar – 2 Apr Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
5 – 9 Apr Blackpool
Opera House
0844 856 1111 Book online
11 – 16 Apr High Wycombe
Swan Theatre
01494 512 000 Book online
Autumn 2016 UK tour – casting to be announced.
4 – 8 Oct Londonderry
Millennium Forum
028 7126 4455 Book online
10 – 15 Oct Birmingham
Hippodrome Theatre
0844 338 5000 Book online
1 – 5 Nov Weymouth
01305 783225 Book online
15 – 19 Nov Salford
The Lowry
0843 208 6000 Book online
21 – 26 Nov Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online


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