Sunday, 13 February 2011

Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre

Blood Brothers-Phoenix TheatreBlood Brothers is Willy Russell’s masterpiece and is currently in its twenty-third year at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End.  It is a touching yet hilarious musical set in Liverpool from the early 50s to the late 70s.  I had seen the play in Liverpool in 1996 and had always wanted to see it again.  After a run of disappointing outings to West End musicals, I finally decided to head for a play that I knew wouldn’t disappoint me.

Opening with the line “So did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins?”, Blood Brothers tells the tale of two brothers born of the same mother but separated at birth.  Mrs Johnstone is a working class woman who has five children by the age of twenty-five.  Destitute and abandoned by her husband, the pregnant Mrs Johnstone discovers that she is expecting twins and confides in her employer in a moment of desperation.  The scheming (and barren) Mrs Lyons suggests to Mrs Johnstone that she doesn’t need two more mouths to feed and she convinces her servant to give up one of her babies.  The deal is sealed when Mrs Lyons makes Mrs Johnstone swear on the Bible that she will uphold their deal.

Blood Brothers - Natasha HamiltonAll too soon after the birth, Mrs Johnstone realises her mistake but Mrs Lyons reminds her of her promise and takes one of the babies, leaving her with Mickey.  Insecure and jealous of Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Lyons eventually terminates her employment in order to keep her away from ‘her’ baby Edward.  She warns the suspicious Mrs Johnstone of an old wives tale (which she has conveniently fabricated) that if twins are ever separated, then they must never know of their sibling status, for if they ever discover the truth then both of them shall die on that very day.

Blood Brothers - Stephen Palfreman, Natasha Hamilton and Simon WillmontDespite the  intentions and scheming of the mothers, Mickey and Eddie meet at the age of seven and begin a friendship that will span the next twenty years.

Natasha Hamilton of girl band Atomic Kitten has landed the coveted role of Mrs Johnstone and this is her first theatre role.  With her powerful voice and convincing 50s and 60s style, I had no idea that she was a theatre novice and thoroughly enjoyed her performance.  Vivienne Carlyle played Mrs Lyons and Louise Clayton played Linda, the girl that starts off as Mickey’s best friend and ultimate comes between the brothers. 

Blood Brothers - Natasha Hamilton and Philip StewartSpecial mention goes to Stephen Palfreman and Simon Willmont as Mickey and Eddie.  My favourite part of the play is the first act where Mickey and Eddie meet as seven-year-olds and all the children of the neighbourhood play in the street.  It is played out by the adult cast and was absolutely delightful in this performance. 

My favourite actor in this performance was Philip Stewart as the narrator.  As narrator he is the voice of fate, warning of the tragedy to come and Philip gave a chilling and powerful performance.

Blood Brothers-Phoenix Theatre interiorI could not fault this production of Blood Brothers and enjoyed each aspect of it.  The stage design and props went a long way to representing the changing face of Liverpool in the 50s, 60s and 70s and the costumes were lovely.   As a play, Blood Brothers captures the innocence and naivety of childhood as well as the silliness and the games children play.  It is an uplifting and enjoyable play and I would absolutely recommend it. 

Blood Brothers is continuing on its epic run at the Phoenix Theatre for the foreseeable future.  Natasha Hamilton will be starring in the role of Mrs Johnstone until 30 July 2011.

All production photos © Landmark / PR Photos

Article first published as Theatre Review (London): Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre on Blogcritics.

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18 comments

  1. How cool! I saw Spring Awakening on the West End and loved it! I also love Liverpool, so this looks like a good show to see.

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  2. I've always wanted to see Blood Brothers, everyone I've spoke to has always raved about it, maybe just one day, I might get the time in my busy life to see it ;)

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  3. What an amazing story- there are so many interesting angles to it. My favorite is that the brothers became friends and can imagine the ways that could play out.

    And what a great review - beautifully written critique of the play! I only wish that I was in London to see it!

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  4. Blood Brothers! I remember going to see this back in the mid 90s. Till I read your review just now, I'd forgotten most of what happened but I do remember thoroughly enjoying it. Reminds me how much I miss the London theatre!

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  5. Honestly, I have not heard of Blood Brothers although I love live theatre because it just feels more personal than watching a movie.

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  6. Em certainly one of my favourites, I saw it some years ago now in Nottingham. Great review and pics.

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  7. I saw Blood Brothers years and years ago, even before 1996 I think, but I remember it so well. Not in any detail but it seems to conjure up haunting memories for me.

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  8. Glad you liked it. I have been to so many damp squibs in the West End that I lost count.

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  9. @ Brenna: ooh, Spring Awakening sounds quite good! If you love Liverpool, you'll love this show.

    @ Karen: You must see it Karen! I'd absolutely recommend it. It is in the same league as Oliver!

    @ Marion: Thank you! It is not always easy to review shows without giving the story away. It has many more twists too which I hopefully didn't give away!

    @ Twisting the Spanner: Where are you?? I can imagine I'd also miss the West End if I left.

    @ AVCr8teur: I actually do prefer film and television, but it's taken me a long time to realise it but this play is special.

    @ Mike: Thank you! The photos of the production are from a photo call though.

    @ Sheila: It is quite haunting but somehow uplifting too! And yes, finally back at CMF.

    @ David: Yeah, and theatre is not cheap either. I've mostly enjoyed the dramas, no matter how weird or arty but it is the musicals that have disappointed me the most.

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  10. I haven't heard of Blood Brothers either.
    Thanks for your marvellous post.
    Glad I learned something interesting today.

    Thanks to you.

    Big hugs!
    B xx

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  11. Well, I can`t remember last time I was in theatre:-) And (shame on me) I never heard of this before...I mostely see trees and mountain you now:-)
    Hope to come over to London one day of chourse.
    Wish you a happy week, and thanks for your nice comment always.

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  12. Hi Emm...yay this looks super cool..I wished i lived there and could take in a show or two with you..I think you'd be great fun!! Awesome post..always a treat to visit here!
    Kiki~

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  13. One of the few I've not yet seen

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  14. I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but I'm currently living in the Midwest of the USA! I miss civilisation. :)

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  15. I think your blog and its idea are cool. Maybe one day I will travel to London and do a series "Cassandra from London" -- Wow. That has such a classy ring to it, doesn't it?

    Thanks for your comment today at Moonboat Cafe.

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  16. Hi Emm,

    I saw the show Blood Brothers in London a few years ago and really enjoyed it.

    You asked about Mimi. No she's not from SA, she's from the RSPCA in Godstone. She doesn't really enjoy travelling that much :)

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  17. @ Betty: Perhaps yu could see it next time you're in London!

    @ Spiderdama: Aaah, when look at your photos, I could almost leave the city behind! Almost.

    @ Kiki: Hee hee. I might take you along to a concert too!

    @ Mo: I would absolutely recommend it!!

    @ Twistng the Spanner: Gosh, that is a long way from London indeed!!!

    @ Cassandra: That sounds super classy! I would totally follow a blog like that!

    @ Alan: Aaaah, poor Mimi. We brought two cats and two dogs over from South Africa. Would never do it again though.

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