Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 25th September 2021
Lyn Paul was billed as returning for her farewell tour in the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, however tonight was a night that showed that the show must go on. Indeed, the understudies did a brilliant job in the opening night of Blood Brothers, which appears this week at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.
The roles of Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Lyons, Donna Marie and Mickey were all performed by understudies and you'd never have guessed if you had not noticed the sign as you went in. Each one did a fine job and it just goes to show that there is a wealth of talent in this very strong ensemble.
Written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell, this epic tale of Liverpool life started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981, before opening at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. It is a tale of two brothers, Mickey (Josh Capper) and Eddie (Joel Benedict), who are separated at birth and follow different paths. The show has charm, comedy and a strong message as Russell's script moves from emotional moments to some real laughs.
Now Lyn Paul was my first Mrs Johnstone when I saw the show in the West End back in the 90s so I was looking forward to seeing her. But Paula Tappenden stepped into the shoes and commanded the stage from the opener Marilyn Monroe through to the the heartbreaking Tell Me It's Not True.
Likewise there was the necessary onstage chemistry between Josh Capper, Joel Benedict and Danielle Corlass as central core of Mickey, Eddie and Linda. We watch them grow up from 7 (and nearly 8) year olds and through their teens into their adult relationships. It is important that the audience feel that they have close spoken and unspoken ties for the show to work.
There are also the almost ever present Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) and the fringe supporting characters including Eddie's Mother, Mrs Lyons (Grace Galloway) and Mickey's brother Sammy (Daniel Taylor) who need to have good timing to keep the action flowing. Directors Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright have used Andy Walmsey's set to ensure that there is no interruption to the action. Another aspect of the show that could be easily overlooked in making the sequences segue smoothly is Nick Richings lighting design that guide the audience to concentrate on one area or another.
The show also features a live band under Musical Director Matt Malone. The arrangements and choice of drum sounds gives the show an early to mid-80s feel. The use of live musicians helps with the energy of the production.
It was fantastic to see a show at this theatre with a full crowd. The audience even up in the Gods at the top. It is also pleasing to see a large number of younger audience members. Some school trips were in the crowd and the school teachers should be congratulated for giving the evening up to show their young charges that theatre is not just there for panto. At the curtain call the audience rose to their feet to congratulate the cast on a job well done.I have lost count how many times I have seen this musical. So how does this cast compare? It was up there with the best. The understudies having a point to prove and delivering a great night at the theatre.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Blood Brothers plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 September 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.