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REVIEW: Blood Brothers at Sunderland Empire

The Brothers Are Back!

Blood Brothers
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 2nd December 2017

Enjoying its 30th anniversary, Blood Brothers continues to attract large audiences. Sometimes described as a musical that even people who dislike musicals can enjoy, it has its many fans. This tour sees the return of Lyn Paul, as Mrs Johnstone, who first appeared in Willy Russell’s show back in 1997.

There is a Dickensian feel in a show about twins that were separated when their mother was persuaded to hand one over to the childless wife that she works for.  Mrs Johnstone agrees to the secret pact with Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) as she will still had 8 other children to feed. The original deal was that she would be able to stay in touch but she is promptly sacked as their cleaner.

The Lyons raise young Edward (Mark Hutchinson) as their own, whilst Mickey (Sean Jones) is brought up alongside his frequently off the rails brother Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and the rest of the Johnstone clan. Given that the Lyons home only live walking distance from the Johnstone’s house it was only going to be a matter of time when the lads would meet up. Sure enough, at the age of 7/going on 8 they meet up and play.

Willy Russell uses the first act to compare and contrast the comfortable existence of the middle class couple with the mother that is buying everything out of the catalogue on the never never.  He isn’t afraid to flag up that whilst Mr Johnstone had long since ran off, at least the mother gives her children attention and a share of what little she has. By comparison Mr Lyons (Tim Churchill) works away and leaves the running of the house to his wife. Russell also flags up some of the effects of businesses downsizing. He also manages a cheeky dig at authority figures in both the law and the education system.

But part of the reason behind the musical’s success and longevity is the typically northern British humour, particularly in the first act.  Like the classic Coronation Street of the 1970s, the script finds the funny side of some pretty desperate situations. This means that the audience feel empathy for many of the characters and it is that emotional attachment which prompted the Sunderland Empire audience to rise to their feet and give the cast a well deserved standing ovation.

Linking the scenes and providing some of the exposition is Dean Chisnall as the Narrator. He is less of a guardian angel and much more of a menacing presence on the Merseyside streets.

The former New Seekers singer and the featured vocalist on their 1972 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Beg, Steal or Borrow, Lyn Paul has chance to shine with the songs Marilyn Monroe and Bright New Day. The role isn’t just about singing and she is able to show the emotion necessary as the mother is a victim to circumstance.

The brothers have to be convincing as they move from primary age to adults, with the change in attitude that goes with that.  Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson strike the right balance through the ages.

The ensemble play multiple roles – a fact Willy Russell jokes about early on as the milkman suddenly reappears as a doctor. Linda (Danielle Corlass) and Donna Marie (Amy-Jane Ollies) in particular help with the sense of the passage of time as the brothers turn into teenagers and then into adults with responsibilities.

The set design from Andy Walmsley help directors Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright ensure the action flows and there is no break from scene to scene. The action simply continues as the set falls into place.

This is a great production of a timely musical. Supported by a great live band, the cast and behind the stage crew combine to produce a vibrant show that is  worth seeking out – even if you’re not a traditional fan of musicals.

Review by Stephen Oliver

NB *Previous cast photos*

Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
Designed by Andy Walmsley                    
Sound Designed By Dan Samson
Musical Direction by Kelvin Towse            
Lighting Designed by Nick Richings

Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022*or online  from our affiliate ATG tickets*calls cost up to 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings. 

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