This week the ever-popular musical Blood Brothers makes a return to South Wales, for a limited run. Cerys-Leigh Phipps took a seat in the Wales Millennium Centre to see the legendary musical brought to life by a vibrant cast, featuring Sean Jones in his final tour as Mickey.
Arriving with a bang, theatregoers in South Wales will be glad to know that William Russell’s smash hit, Blood Brothers, has made its appearance at the Wales Millennium Centre just in time to kick off the festive period. Although only staying at the WMC for a limited six day run, there is no doubt that the memory of this loud, yet heartfelt touring production will remain long after the final bow. Appearing on both the West End and Broadway over the last 40 years, this Olivier award winning musical will tug on your heart strings while leaving you in stitches.
Set in a 1950s-1980s Liverpool, Russell’s classic tale follows the lives of twins separated at birth. Due to her financial hardships, Mrs Johnstone has no other option than to give up one of her twins to the wealthy Mrs Lyons, leading to her children Eddie and Mickey having polar opposite life experiences. Through this production, Russell not only exposes the harsh realities of the British class system divide, but also brings to life a story of friendship, love and to an extent, tragedy.
Although a spectacular performance in all departments, one that needs an immediate applause is this production’s casting choices. From Mrs Johnstone to Eddie and Mickey, and to the eerie, omnipresent narrator, each character in this piece is embodied with such enthusiasm and purpose that it is impossible to direct your gaze away from the stage.
Niki Colwell Evans’ Mrs Johnstone is truly a masterclass in theatrical performance as she beautifully tells the story of a mother’s struggle, taking us on her journey of guilt, regret and the struggle of self-forgiveness after giving one of her children away. We first meet Mrs Johnstone through the opening number “Marylin Monroe” through which Evans immediately brings a hopeful, yet burdened Mrs Johnstone to life before our eyes. She is truly a vocal powerhouse as you are guaranteed to be left in awe of Evans’ ability to convey such heavy emotions while maintaining complete control over her voice. Evans’ remarkable vocal ability paired with her incredible sense of theatricality brings a sombre yet loving presence to the role, a performance that is a pleasure to bear witness to.
As well as Evans’ Mrs Johnstone, Josh Capper and Jay Worley’s performances as separated twins turned blood brothers Mickey and Eddie, is nothing short of impressive. Mickey and Eddie can be a tricky pair of characters for actors to navigate, particularly due to the drastic change in age they go through throughout the piece. However, Capper and Worley capture this coming-of-age narrative seamlessly, as we watch Mickey and Eddie grow up from seven (nearly eight), to fourteen, and then eventually eighteen. The pair’s brilliant characterisation of these polar opposite twins is more than convincing. While managing to maintain their individual character’s identity (Mickey coming from a working-class background and Eddie one of luxury and comfort) Capper and Worley beautifully portray the brothers ever-evolving relationship even while their life experiences begin to differ. These actors’ on-stage chemistry is unmatched.
In addition to the incredible cast, it is also important to note the powerful use of staging, lighting and props that takes this production to another level. When it comes to these practical elements of performance, nothing is left to the imagination. The use of pyrotechnics, particularly in Mickey and Eddie’s final interaction in which lifelike gunshots are used heighten the already tense finale; these stunning visuals literally making you jump out of your seat. Lighting also plays a vital role in evoking the desired reaction from the audience, acting a visual enhancer for the spoken action taking place on stage. All in all, these practical elements of theatricality only add to this brilliant production.
While entertaining audiences with a stunning musical score paired with equally superb lyricism, ( a personal favourite lyric of mine being “Now y’know the devil’s got your number”), Russell also exposes the hardships faced by the poverty stricken. Through the juxtaposing lives of Mickey and Eddie, Russell cleverly magnifies the still very apparent class social class divide, highlighted in Eddie’s ignorance to Mickey’s financial struggles after coming from a life of luxury. These themes of economic struggle hit very close to home for a 2022 audience, given the economic crisis we are currently facing. Hopefully through watching this piece, an awareness to these struggles can be spread from audience to audience.
There is a reason that this classic piece of theatre has remained in the hearts of audiences since its initial run in 1983. William Russell’s Blood Brothers is a beautifully constructed piece lyrically, musically, and dramatically with a tear-jerking storyline at its core. If you are able to get down to Cardiff’s WMC before its final performance on December 3rd, prepare yourself for 2 hours and 45 minutes of pure theatrical talent; and don’t forget to pack your tissues!
Blood Brothers runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until December 3rd. Tickets are available here.