One of the most well-loved and longest running shows in the West End returned to London this week forafter a lengthy absence as the new UK tour of Blood Brothers hit the Capital. It might seem odd to attempt to review a show that has been tried and tested for nearly 40 years now, but does this touring production still pack the same punch the West End production did?
Beginning life as a school play, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers first appeared in the West End in 1983 before returning in 1988 for what would be a continuous run lasting 24 years and over 10,000 performances, making it the third longest musical in West End history. Now, nearly 10 years after it played its last West End performance, it is back for a short stay in Wimbledon as part of the current UK tour.
Telling the story of two twin brothers separated at birth and the very different lives they had due to the very different classes they are raised in, Blood Brothers demands versatility in its completely adult cast as they spend the show portraying children as young as 7.
Several cast members from the West End production have returned for this current tour. Niki Evans, who first came to our attention on The X Factor in 2007, returns to the role of Mrs Johnstone - a role she first played back in 2008. Not the easiest of roles to get your teeth around but Niki completely embodies the character, draining every ounce of emotion, love and heartbreak into the complicated but compelling role she takes on. Anyone concerned the emotion of the character at the shows climax might be lessened due to the amount of time Niki has played the role on and off needn't worry. The sheer anguish she portrayed at the close was a true testament to her acting ability, in what is the most genuine portrayal of pain I have ever witnessed on a stage. With incredible acting and a sensational singing voice, Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone will go down as one of the single greatest performances I have ever witnessed.
Sean Jones returns to the role he has played on and off for 20 years as Mickey, one of the twin brothers. Showing incredible verstality, he effortlessly transitions from a 7 year old to a teenager to a troubled adult, all with a sense of authenticity and heart that comes with experience in the role. His blood brother Eddie is played by Joel Benedict, equally wonderful as the two parted twins reunite and form an unlikely friendship. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and forms the centrepiece of this tragedy. Another Blood Brothers alumnus returning to the role is Paula Tappenden, mesmerising as Mrs Lyons. Carly Burns gives a standout performance as Linda while the role of the Narrator is played fantastically by Robbie Scotcher, breaking the fourth wall with his constantly sinister presence as he warns us of the twist this tale is going to take.
The talent on stage extends past the acting, with the cast all in fine voice. 'Tell Me It's Not True' remains one of the greatest closing numbers in musical theatre, while the repeated 'Marilyn Monroe' throughout the show is as clever as it is catchy. Fantastic staging transforms the setting as the Johnstone and Lyons families move houses with great interactivity in the set design. While its subject matter might be extremely dark at times, the script is littered with funny liners, particularly involving the brilliant cast portraying young children.
Whether you have seen the show before or not, Blood Brothers never fails to hit the mark. Thought provoking and raising interesting ethical questions - Its ending never fails to prove soul destroying and horriffic, no matter how many times you have seen it. I defy anyone who feels a touring production is lesser than the West End equivalent to watch this and say how it pales in any shape or form. If anything, I would go as far as say this is even better than it was when it was last in the West End as it feels more raw and important after such a long absence from London. If one of the finest things of musical theatre is how much it can make you feel, this is without a doubt up there as one of the shows that does this to the greatest effect.
Every bit as incredible now as it was when it first debuted in the 1980s, it is easy to see why Blood Brothers is so well renowned and so very loved by musical theatre fans. Making a welcome return to London as part of its tour, if the rumours are to be believed, it may even be making a welcome return to the West End in the near future. Tell me it's true, as this amazing show deserves a second lengthy West End run to further its impeccable legacy.
Blood Brothers plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 12th February as part of its UK tour with tickets from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/blood-brothers/ For full tour dates and tickets, see https://www.bloodbrothersmusical.com/uk-tour/
Photos from a past production.