Blood Brothers

October 14, 2021 | By More

★★★★☆  Compelling tragedy

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 12 – Sat 16 Oct 2021
Review by Thom Dibdin

All may not be right in the world but some things just don’t change. Judging from the opening night audience at the start of its week long stay at the Playhouse, Blood Brothers is still the musical guaranteed to end with a standing ovation.

The show is slightly different in one respect, however. There is neither a Nolan to be seen in the cast nor is Lyn Paul able to play the pivotal role of Mrs Johnstone this week for personal reasons. However Amy Robbins, a West End veteran in the role, is on hand to ensure it is played just right.

Blood Brothers (image from previous tour). Pic: Robert Day

Blood Brothers is all about the inevitable. The tragedy of the Johnstone twins – who, we learn in the opening prologue, have been separated at birth and are destined to die on the self same day that they find out the truth about their relationship – plays out as inexorably as ever.

Yet there can be few who watch the show without hoping, beyond hope, that this time everything will turn out alright.

And it is this ability to toy with the future, to simultaneously hold up of the possibility of a better, alternative ending in which the foretold death does not occur – while emphasising the immutability of its tragedy – which has ensured the longevity of Bill Kenwright’s much-toured production of Willy Russell’s well-honed script.

bring that bit of magic about

You still need a strong cast, however, to bring that bit of magic about. A narrator who can glide in and out of the story – be a part of it yet aloof from it. Actors who can convince as seven year-olds as much as they can as teenagers and adults. And actors who can subtly convey the tragedies of the bereaved adults.

Blood Brothers (image from previous tour). Pic: Robert Day

Robbie Scotcher could be built for the role of narrator. He has the look and demeanour of a top-notch snooker referee: there to facilitate and oversee the action, but never in danger of taking it over. His singing, providing depth to some of the show’s songs, never falters either.

Then there are those twins – loveable scamp Mickey Johnstone (Alexander Patmore) and self-confident Eddie Lyons (Joel Benedict). Both Patmore and Benedict go far beyond convincing in terms of the characters and their development, to create people who you feel you know and have met.

Supporting them, Danielle Corlas as their child-hood pal Linda is equally on the money. She grows into the role as it grows over the course of the show and, while there isn’t enough there to make the character tug the heartstrings as much as the lads, her bright engaged performance keeps the narrative very much alive.

rousing

There is more caricature than character to big brother Sammy – and Daniel Taylor bounces around with the necessary force and brazen bullying. Indeed, the whole chorus keep it rousing as the kids grow up around Mrs Johnstone, and the scenes when they are playing in the street are joyous.

Amy Robbins plays Mrs Johnstone

You do feel for Mrs Johnstone, who ever is playing the role, and Amy Robbins brings all the necessary love – while acknowledging her frailties. However, it does sound as if she is nursing her voice a little in those fantastic numbers – Marilyn Monroe and Easy Terms – whose hooks and melodies run through the whole production.

If Mrs Johnstone is the mum you wished you had, Mrs Lyons is the mother you probably thought you had when you were sent scowling to your room, convinced the world hated you because of some trifling (to you) misdemeanour. It is a thankless role and Paula Teppenden provides a chilling authenticity to her gradual breakdown.

The hook of inevitability apart, Blood Brothers also wins with its very human portrayal of working class life in Liverpool in the Sixties and Seventies. Willy Russell is canny enough to provide some rose-tinted moments, but there is a great deal more depth here.

It’s not just class, important though that is, but the portrayal of the haves and the have nots – and the way Russell succeeds in showing the former’s difficulty of appreciating what, exactly, it is that their wealth gives them.

All woven up in a story which is as compelling as it is skilfully crafted. And yes, the production is as worthy of its standing ovation as it every was.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday12 – Saturday 16 October 2021
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed, Thurs & Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets  Book here.

Blood Brothers (image from previous tour). Pic: Robert Day

ENDS

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