An unreconstructed Liverpool skyline may hang over the action throughout the latest tour of Willy Russell's working class tragedy, but what follows could have happened in any post-industrial UK city that has had its heart ripped out of it over the last thirty years or so. That Russell's musical fable concerning the very different fortunes of two Scouse brothers separated at birth remains both phenomenally popular and damningly relevant after almost thirty years since its premiere speaks volumes about the state we're in.
Much of the show's appeal comes from the sheer heart of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's production, which heightens the action without ever losing its common touch. The latter comes through in the pop poetry of Kristofer Harding's funeral-suited Narrator as much as in the back-street demotic of Sean Jones' Mickey and Danielle Corlass' Linda. This counterpoints the more educated tones of Joel Benedict's Eddie to entertaining effect. Most of all it shines through in Lyn Paul's heartbreaking turn as the twin boys' mother, Mrs Johnstone.
There is nothing abstract in Russell's depiction of class division, the enforced break-up of communities and the psychological and material consequences of extreme poverty. In this respect, Blood Brothers is arguably the first large-scale anti-capitalist musical, which, despite the contradictions of its own success, has subverted the mainstream like no other.
While Russell's musical compositions are far from subtle, some of the overwrought bombast of previous productions has been jettisoned for something more restrained and almost mournful in delivery. Even so, the show's final five minutes remain one of the most emotionally draining theatrical experiences likely to grace a stage anywhere in recent times.
The Herald, February 9th 2016