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REVIEW: Blood Brothers at Sunderland Empire
The Brothers Are Back!
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
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
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*
BLOOD BROTHERS By Willy Russell
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
Designed by Andy
Sound Designed By Dan Samson
Musical Direction by Kelvin
Lighting Designed by Nick Richings
Tickets available from the Box
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