03:15PM, Friday 25 March 2022
‘Have you heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins…’
So begins one of the best loved musicals of all time - Blood Brothers. Written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell in 1983, it has been a phenomenal success around the world, winning four awards for best musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway.
And when punters are still filling the theatre on opening night, laughing and crying in equal measure and offering a standing ovation to the cast, you know they’re on to something.
First praise goes to the set – a narrow intimate setting depicting street life within Liverpool. Subtle scene changes take you from scruffy street to fancy living room then on to a new estate in the countryside. It was so well done I swear I didn’t notice one change!
The story is a simple one – twin brothers separated shortly after birth when their mother, old-before-her-time Mrs Johnstone, realises she can’t afford to keep both along with her seven other hungry children, especially after her husband deserts them.
Her job as a housekeeper offers a terrible solution, when the lady of the house, who has everything except for a longed-for baby, asks Mrs Johnstone to give her one of the twins. Weakness and desperation sees an awful pact agreed – poor Mrs Johnstone is straight out of hospital when the bailiffs arrive, taking all her on-tick belongings, including a teddy bear for the new babies. The moment Mrs Lyons comes to claim ‘her’ baby is truly heartbreaking.
The Mrs Johnstone role was played brilliantly by Paula Tappenden, who, like a number of the cast has played the role many times over, including the West End. Her motherly love and the anguish of poverty and separation from her baby is exquisite.
The other twin’s ‘mother’ Mrs Lyons (Grace Galloway) had anguish of her own – could she ever trust that her boy wouldn’t want to return to his natural mother; was the pact she made too much for her fragile sanity (hint, it was).
But to the twins. Of course their paths cross as they grow up – they find each other playing and despite their class differences become besties – blood brothers even. We see the characters – Mickey and Edward, and ever-present Linda – grow from 7 (almost 8) through to 14, on to 18 and into adult life.
Special mention to Sean Jones who played Mickey. His performance perfectly captured the young scally through to the adult battling depression. Credit too to Carly Burns’ Linda – Mickey’s faithful friend desperate for him to notice her as more. Joel Benedict’s Edward – Eddie – wasn’t such a challenging role – and this in itself perfectly shows the difference between the twins upbringings – one raised in poverty has the weight of the world on his shoulders; the other raised with everything doesn’t have a care in the world.
With its explosive ending, this really is not one to miss.
Blood Brothers is showing at the Wycombe Swan until Saturday, March 26.
All lines are currently blocked between Reading and London Paddington stations due to a person being hit by a train.