Blood Brothers at The Regent Theatre
By David Bithell
The play, by the man behind Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, focuses on class and the divide between rich and poor. Straight away you get the Liverpudlian wit and humour that echoes from a typical Willy Russell play.
Mum of seven Mrs Johnstone (the fab Linzi Hateley) struggles to pay her bills, her husband has left, and has another baby on the way.
But Blood Brothers also has a narrator (Robbie Scotcher), who is rarely off stage. He reminds us how dark this tale is going to become and brings a sense of darkness. As the plot unfolds, you realise that this is a Greek tragedy set in Liverpool.
The narrator drops the bombshell to the audience, that she is expecting not one baby, but two, which would tip her and her neighbours over the edge.
Enter her boss, middle class Mrs Lyons (a convincing Sarah Jane Buckley), who lives a very comfortable life, mainly alone whilst her husband works away.
But as Mrs Johnstone polishes her rich boss’s furniture and cleans her floors, the lonely lady opens up to her. She is unable to have children. The pain is etched on her face and she is just as lost as her employee.
Mrs Lyons persuades Mrs Johnstone to give up one of the twins, so she can bring him up as her own. The narrator hands over a bible and it is agreed and sworn.
Willy Russell expresses the feeling of Britain at the time under a Thatcher government and the play has anger running through its veins, as well as great comedy and melodrama.
Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s production has a lot of passion and togetherness. You can tell they respect Willy Russell’s superb script, which shines through a great cast. I was taken aback by the energy and hunger from the moment the play started right til the end.
Linzi Hateley is the focal point and carries the show with brilliant vocals and the ability to present Mrs Johnstone as far more than just a single mother. She is funny, heartfelt and the audience has genuine empathy for her plight. Russell’s writing means that you are on her side throughout.
Narrator Robbie Scotcher is quietly menacing, laughing at the back of the stage at much of the Scouse humour, only to arrive stage left bearing bad news. He also harmonises in a lovely way with Linzi Hateley throughout.
Sean Jones played by Mickey – the twin Mrs Johnstone keeps – is an incredible actor and at times has the audience eating out the palm of his hand.
The same applies to Mark Hutchinson as Eddie, Mickey’s twin. The chemistry between the brothers is electric and therefore makes the finale even more heartbreaking.
Sarah Jane Buckley presents Mrs Lyons as a victim rather than a villain. She has a sense of pining and her pain is deep. Her vocals are as smooth as her character’s expensive dining room table.
The supporting cast are all excellent, playing children, bus conductors, teachers, secretaries and milkmen.
Daniel Taylor, plays Sam with real pain in his eyes, which contrasts with earlier scenes where he plays a child with wonder and excitement.
Andy Walmsley’s set design is not fussy but conveys the class divide perfectly.
Nick Richings’ lighting acts as a storm cloud hovering over the Johnstones.
This isn’t the usual musical theatre of pearly white grins, glitter and glad hands. Blood Brothers offers you true grit, loads of laughs and plenty of heartache.
By the time Linzi Hateley is singing Easy Terms and living on the never never, you will be so moved you will be booking a return visit. This terrific tale of two brothers parted at birth will be in your blood.
Blood Brothers is at The Regent Theatre until Saturday 27 October.