TWIN brothers are separated at birth, but this does not prove enough to keep them apart, as their lives will remain intertwined until their tale reaches its conclusion.
There was a full house for the opening night of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers at the Hippodrome. The reputation of this tale of Liverpudlian life precedes it – a 24 year run in London’s West End and tour of the UK since 1995.
A tale of torment and lies, love and loss, Blood Brothers asks the classic nature or nurture question by taking the two Johnstone twins and separating them at birth.
This is a story about class, set against the backdrop of 1960s Liverpool, in which a penniless single mother is lured into giving up one of her babies to her rich but infertile boss Mrs Lyons.
And so Eddie will grow up an only child living a life of privilege, while his twin Mickey stays with his mother and siblings who are always struggling to make ends meet.
It doesn’t take long though before the boys have their Parent Trap moment, with a chance encounter aged seven leading them to become the best of friends. They have an enchanting friendship, with games of cowboys and Indians and shooting toy guns – although you need to suspend your imagination quite far to comprehend these adult actors playing children in school uniforms.
Sean Jones (Mickey) and Mark Hutchinson (Eddie) have fantastic singing voices, which are somewhat wasted during their childhood years in the first half. As Mickey’s adult life falls apart, however, Sean Jones’ talent really shines through.
Star of the show is Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone. Blood Brothers has almost become synonymous with the Nolan sisters, four of whom have stepped into the role of Mrs Johnstone, earning the family an entry into the Guinness Book of Records. She is clearly at home in the role but still enjoying it as much as ever.
There are also strong performances from the story’s narrator, Kristofer Harding, and Danielle Corlass as Mickey’s neighbour, Linda – who shines in a lovely scene outgunning the boys at target practice.
What is special about this production is the way it mixes comedy with true grit. It’s not uncommon to see tragedy hold hands with comedy, but in the first half of Blood Brothers it is verging on slapstick, childish physical humour, which shifts markedly as tensions rise in the second half.
For a story that gives away its ending at the beginning, it is masterful in the way it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as it delivers its shocking conclusion.
As the emotive ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ rang out in the powerful ending, there was a deserving standing ovation.
Blood Brothers is at the Hippodrome, Bristol until Saturday.