Reviewed by Emma Wasson
As we arrived at the ticket office the power had just shorted, however even without lighting the staff remained calm and served who they could and even in the dark I was still able to collect my tickets. The staff were very polite and helpful and I was given a programme and my drinks order was taken for the interval, these little touches were a lovely welcome into the theatre.
All encounters with staff were positive. A member of staff was located at each entrance to the theatre and pointed us in the direction of our seats, the bar and the toilets.
As we walked into the main part of the theatre we soon realised that the performance was a complete sell out, both bars were extremely busy and as you would expect with 800 spectators there were queues for the ladies toilets, both prior to the performance and during the interval, although the toilets were all clean and tidy with plenty of soap and towels available. The audience was comprised of a whole mix of people all ages and it was clear from the buzz round the theatre that they were all eager for the play to commence.
The play tells the story of Mrs Johnston, a single mother with many children plagued by debt falling pregnant again to twins. Against her better judgment, one day she and her wealthy employer hatch a plan to see one of the twins given to the employer Mrs Lyons as Mrs Johnston cannot afford to keep both children. The twins, Mickey and Edward are then kept apart, however accidentally meet up years later and become best friends and swear to be Blood Brothers, unaware they are actual brothers. During the second half of the play, it suddenly becomes clear that the two brothers are both in love with the same girl and that the story was never going to end well and the tale that follows eventually leads to a tragic ending which sees both brothers die at the same time. The story explores the different class systems in the UK and depicts some of the harsh realities between the two, and also plays upon peoples superstitions.
An outstanding performance by all, what a truly magnificent cast!! From the moment the play opened to the moment the curtains fell all the actors gave the whole performance 110%.
The cast’s voices were incredible, so powerful, with varying degrees of intensity used dependent upon the scene in question. It was a joy to listen to them all night, and clearly well appreciated by the audience as well.
Throughout the performance, the cast had an empathy with the spectators, building a rapport and at certain points in the show we saw the actors own personalities shine through, as they shared a joke with the audience during several funny moments of the play, it was lovely to see.
The set itself was comprised of terraced houses built up on each side, one with a balcony on the right and a thin walkway bridge crossing between the two sets of houses at the back of the stage, with a backdrop illustrating the skyline of Liverpool. There was a clever use of lighting throughout the show, which aided the more dramatic scenes and added additional effect to emphasise certain points. From turning the backdrop red to express the blood that had been spilt to the dramatic scene when Mrs Lyons was going slightly mad, several bright spotlights lit her up from several angles, not only giving a very dramatic effect but adding more emphasis onto her condition and pain.
Throughout the show various props were used to aid the audience’s understanding of each scene, most of these props were fairly simple in their nature, such as sofas, coffee tables, different backdrops for each house, a kitchen and even washing being pegged on the line. However all of these were used extremely well in aiding and assisting the actors to retell the story, and were brought on and taken off the stage seamlessly as there were no breaks in the play for any grand changes to occur, allowing the play to flow continuously.
The story begins by depicting the tragic ending of the show with the 2 dead brothers, and the narrator then informs the audience that we are to then learn of how we arrived at this dreadful moment. The cast then did a fabulous job of allowing the play to flow seamlessly from start to finish, which is clearly down to their tremendous talent. During the performance there are no gaps, each scene flows into the next, with many overlapping, going from different houses or venues at the same time. Also time passes very quickly and with the aid of the narrator or the songs, the audience soon learns what age Mickey and friends have now become.
The play although written many years ago is still a joy to watch and is just as heart wrenching today as it was in the 1980s. As mentioned above the story tells the tale of the upper and lower class tier system we have in Britain, and the actors all did a superb job pulling off their specific roles. The language throughout the show is very cleverly used to depict the differences between these two worlds and the cast did a brilliant job of using accents and dialects to portray their characters and their mannerisms were uniquely tailored to each role, aiding in the story’s interpretation. The costumes used throughout the show were also brilliant, from Mrs Lyons posh outfits and pearls to Mrs Johnston’s pinny and slippers. To Mickey’s ripped jumpers and hand me downs to Edwards smart attire throughout. A credit to the wardrobe department.
The narrator, played by Warwick Evans, was there not just to tell the story but to provoke the emotions of the audience, and his voice was so strong and powerful that each time he sung he achieved his goal. He spoke the ugly truth, saying all the things that usually remain unsaid in society, reiterating that there will always be a price to be paid for your actions. His presence on stage was extremely menacing and sinister throughout; he did a fantastic job all night.
Mrs Johnstone, played by Maureen Nolan, takes the lead role and is absolutely outstanding throughout. She has an amazing voice which was a joy to listen to and not only sung incredibly, but also acted out the character’s role of Mrs Johnston tremendously as well. Maureen did an amazing job, and it was clear by her emotion at the curtain call at the end of the performance how much of herself she had put into the play, it was much appreciated by all of the audience.
Mickey, played by Sean Jones was outstanding, his portrayal of a seven year old boy is phenomenal, he had little boys’ mannerisms down to a tee and is clearly still very fit and active with all the dancing movements he performed on stage, as he depicted a typical 7 year old boy and the make believe games they get up to pass the time. Throughout his energy and enthusiasm for life shone through, until his darker days towards the end of his life, when he has to portray a manic depressive. Again he pulls this off exceptionally well as his whole dimena changes, you can’t help but empathise with the character.
Mark Hutchinson, who plays Eddie, also did a fantastic job, depicting the posh twin from the other side of town, who had led a very sheltered life.
Tracy Spencer was also a credit to the cast in her role as Mrs Lyons. Throughout she remains true to her class in her mannerisms and accent, however throughout the play she has to portray her increased paranoia as she fears she will lose her son Edward. It comes to a head one day when she attempts to kill Mrs Johnston and her voice escalates and is so powerful as she’s singing on her own as she spirals into another depression. Again another fantastic job done.
During the final scene when the tragic accident occurs and both brothers are shot dead at the same time, although the audience are anticipating tragedy, when the guns eventually go off, everyone jumped in their seats, primarily due to the sound effects used. There were plenty of tears in the audience as they all sung the final song, “Tell me it’s not true”. The cast were then rewarded for all their hard work and dedication by a standing ovation as the audience erupted into loud cheers and clapping to show their appreciation for such a superbly acted out play.
What an outstanding and truly moving performance by a group of highly talented actors and singers. It was a joy to watch. I would love to see this play again, and will definitely be recommending it to others.
Tickets cost from £12.90 to £38.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Showing at the Grand Opera House in York until 5 October 2013, to book tickets click here.